Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable around other people, in the classroom, during a party or in other social situations? If this is something you often experience and, in some events, leads to a panic attack, you might be dealing with social anxiety.
What is it exactly?
A person that is experiencing social anxiety may be feeling a high level of nervousness and be self-conscious in many situations. Unlike shyness or occasional nerves, social anxiety triggers symptoms that are experienced more acutely.
It causes intense fear when talking in front of others, talking to strangers, going to parties, using public transportation, and other social interactions.
Due to the anxiousness surrounding such situations, someone with social phobia will choose to avoid them. Such avoidant behaviours may lead to social isolation.
How do you know if you’re just extremely shy or have social anxiety?
There are certain indications that can help distinguish one from the other. A major difference is when your shyness or self-consciousness gets in the way of your everyday functioning.
It is one thing to be shy when talking in front of other people, but it’s a different story when it results in you losing your job or not leaving your home for days on end.
Symptoms of social anxiety can be behavioral, emotional, and/or physical. An example of a behavioral symptom is when a person withdraws from social situations in such a way that it disrupts their life and their activities become limited. An emotional symptom would be experienced when someone feels extremely anxious and self-conscious in an everyday social situation. Another example is when someone worries for days or months about joining an event and speaking with a lot of people.
As for physical symptoms, you may experience any of these symptoms when in social situations:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart races or your chest tightens
- Feeling nauseous, dizzy or faint
- Tremble, shake, or blush intensely
Is there a way to overcome social anxiety?
Yes. There are several strategies you can use to deal with your anxiety. It is helpful to recognize the fear as it comes up, learn to comfort yourself to manage the emotion, and then work to change the unhelpful thoughts that further build your anxiety.
- First, you will need to notice the sensations that come up in your body when you are scared. Second, you can use a grounding strategy such as deep breathing or paying attention to sounds in the room to be more present. Finally, you can do something that is comforting for you such as taking a break and walking to the washroom or getting a drink.
- Once you help settle the fear, then you can challenge some of your unhelpful thoughts. For instance, would people really think you are not smart or is it possible that they may see some value in what you have to say? When we are scared, we tend to think in an all or nothing manner.
- Identify similar negative thoughts that automatically surface whenever you are in a social situation and gently challenge them by offering alternative helpful thoughts.
- Expose yourself to the fear. For instance, if social anxiety is triggered when you have to speak to other people, then gradually practice talking to people.
- Reach out to a therapist who uses Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) to help manage the way you feel, think, and behave in social situations.
- Consider attending a social skills group or attending assertiveness training.
Use these strategies to manage social anxiety and try to embrace a lifestyle that would help reduce your anxiety (i.e. being physically active, getting enough sleep, and limiting caffeine). When necessary and recommended by a doctor, you can also take medication to help with the symptoms.