Are you experiencing social anxiety?
There are so many of us who experience social anxiety and too often it holds people back from enjoying relationships with others and achieving both work and personal goals. I want to share about what social anxiety is, in order to help others better understand their own experience or someone they know who may be suffering. When we have a better understanding of ourselves and others, we are able to make a positive change or help someone we care about. I also want people to know that you do not have to continue to live with social anxiety, there are therapists out there including myself who can help.
What circumstances typically provoke social anxiety?
In my work with clients and experience with social anxiety, I have found that there tends to be more fear around larger groups and social situations with strangers. With more people and potential for social interaction there is more fear around negative judgement about what we do or say. When there are people we do not know in a particular social setting, anxiety can be even worse. There is a level of comfort we have with people we know and much uncertainty with those we do not. It can also be more challenging to think up topics of conversation with people we do not know.
There can be many other situations that provoke social anxiety depending on the person. These situations can seem quite innocuous to those without social anxiety. For example, making eye contact with a someone or exchanging a greeting with the cashier at the store can be anxiety provoking.
How does social anxiety come to be?
People of all different personalities, ages and backgrounds can have social anxiety. It is often developed in childhood through negative experiences with our families or peers. Social anxiety also seems to be related to whether someone is more introverted than extroverted. I have found that most people with social anxiety are introverted. This means that they need time alone and/or with another close friend to recharge where as extroverts recharge their energy by socializing with others. Of course, there are those with social anxiety who are extroverted. Understanding the cause is important because we may need to work through past trauma to overcome present anxiety or we may need to better understand how we gather our energy so that we can be successful in social situations.
What is it like to experience social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a lot like most other types of anxiety in regards to our physical response. Social anxiety can range from mild stomach discomfort to a full blown panic attack. Typical symptoms of anxiety are stomach discomfort or pain, muscle tension, headaches, trembling, feeling hot or getting flushed, excessive sweating, increased heart rate and heavy breathing. There are cognitive symptoms as well including racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating. The emotional symptoms associated with social anxiety are typically low self esteem, excessive worry about what others think of you, and low mood. With all of these symptoms occurring you can see how challenging it can be for someone with social anxiety to engage in social situations. When social anxiety is present there is so much mental activity focused on the possibility of a negative outcome that there is little capacity to think of things to say or how to behave.
Help with social anxiety
When someone you know has social anxiety, you can be helpful in the way you interact with them. Sometimes, people who are quiet or shy are judged negatively. Remember that they may be socially anxious or they may just tend to be on the quieter side. There is nothing wrong with that. You may need to lead the conversation more with someone who is socially anxious. Ask questions, try to find a topic they are interested in, and on on one conversations can be less stressful for them than group interactions.
If you are experiencing social anxiety, do not wait to get help. The longer you wait the longer you may be plagued with discomfort and social limitations. Be sure to find a therapist you can trust and open to, so that you can work through the deeper issues that may be contributing to social anxiety. Working through social anxiety is a challenge because fears need to be faced in order to overcome it. As with most challenges, the work pays off. Confidence is restored and there are no longer the same obstacles holding you back from enjoying social gatherings, dating, achieving work goals, or just being comfortable in your own skin.