What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. It is not just 'butterflies in the stomach' or feeling nervous; we all have that! Social anxiety disorder is a diagnosable condition that disrupts a person's everyday life.
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety disorder. It is a condition where people experience extreme fear and anxiety in social settings. Meeting and interacting with new people can be challenging for people experiencing social anxiety disorder due to their fear of being judged and scrutinised by others. The fear they feel is perpetual and persistent, affecting their ability to attend school or work or maintain interpersonal relationships.
Now that we know what social anxiety disorder is, let’s look at its symptoms.
What does social anxiety look like?
- Avoiding situations that might put you in a position to be judged
- Intense worry before or during a social gathering
- Avoiding conversations and trying to blend into the background
- Missing school or work because of anxiety
- Feeling uncomfortable with public speaking and/or tasks like eating in front of others, job interviews, in-person shopping, or using public restrooms
- Excessive sweating
- Stressed breathing
- Shaking or trembling
- Difficulty speaking
- Racing heart
- Muscle tension
What causes social anxiety?
Like other mental disorders, social anxiety has a variety of causal factors instead of one definite cause. These include genetics, past experiences, and traumatic incidents. When it comes to social anxiety, these incidents are related to social settings or interactions such as bullying or abuse. Shy kids are more likely to be anxious adults. A medical condition affecting your physical appearance can also make you insecure, triggering social anxiety.
How can you manage social anxiety?
While symptoms of social anxiety can look different for different people, some symptoms can be as intense as panic or anxiety attacks. If that is something you struggle with, you can check out our blog on panic attacks for tips on managing such a situation.
Here are some other strategies you can implement to manage symptoms of social anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):
CBT focuses on changing your behaviour in a way that helps you deal with your mental health struggles. Commonly used in therapy for anxiety, your therapist might make you practise breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, etc., that you can employ when you feel the onset of an anxiety attack.
Have a support system:
It might feel vulnerable when you open up to someone about your mental health, but if it is someone you trust, their support can be very helpful in managing your disorder. They might look out for you and accompany you to social situations to make you feel more comfortable, as well as look for signs and anticipate things getting difficult for you.
Try leading up to a fearful situation one step at a time. For instance, if you are apprehensive about talking to a group, try talking to a single person. Work your way up eventually. If you have a presentation in front of your class, try practising it with a friend first.
Social anxiety is often rooted in self-doubt and the fear of making a fool of yourself. So, make it a point to give yourself a pep talk before an important event, appreciate your small wins, and be mindful of what you say to yourself (and how you say it, too). Keep in mind that talking to a salesperson might not be a big deal to other people but could be a win for you; appreciate yourself for it! Don't be too hard on yourself for the situations that took the best of you.
This includes not avoiding the situation altogether but finding ways to not be in the foreground. For example, not cancelling the plan for attending a party, but sticking to your small group of friends or deflecting attention from yourself by staying in the kitchen or on your phone. While this is not a long-term solution, it helps you get by with superficial participation through situational exposure.
Avoid negative coping strategies:
Coping skills for social anxiety are crucial to ensure your overall mental wellbeing. In order to calm anxious feelings in social situations, people might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol (think of Raj from The Big Bang Theory, for example). While such behaviours might have an immediate calming effect, they would also make you more vulnerable to substance use disorder or addiction.
We understand that social anxiety can be an all-consuming concern, but therapy can help. The right therapist will help you identify your triggers and suggest healthy coping strategies to deal with intrusive thoughts. So if you’re struggling with an intense, irrational fear of social situations, talk to a therapist today!