Written by: Janesse Leung
What is Social Anxiety?
Does having to interact with other people make you feel self-conscious or afraid of being negatively judged to the point where you avoid social interactions? You may be experiencing social anxiety disorder. This article will talk about some of the causes and symptoms of social anxiety disorder. It will also discuss some treatments for social anxiety, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Most people experience some stress or anxiety before challenging social interactions, such as first dates or job interviews. Whenever the stakes feel high, people will tend to be nervous or notice signs of anxiety. If you find yourself anxious about social situations that other people seem to enjoy and feel much more relaxed when you’re alone, then social anxiety may be a problem for you.
What are the Physical Signs of Social Anxiety?
The physical signs of social anxiety include a racing heart, red or flushed face and neck, excessive sweating, a dry throat and mouth, trembling hands or voice, difficulty swallowing, and muscle twitches in the face and neck.
Situations that can provoke these symptoms might include:
- Meeting new people
- Teasing or criticism
- Being the center of attention at school or work
- Being watched while doing something
- Meeting people of authority
- Having social encounters with strangers
- Starting a new interpersonal relationship, either friendly or romantic
You may feel even more afraid of social interactions if you are worried that physical symptoms will make you stand out. Or you may have a fear of failure in these situations—that’s the cruel irony of social anxiety.
How Do I Deal with Social Anxiety?
If you are facing social anxiety, you may already know that your fear is irrational. Nevertheless, knowing that fear isn’t rational or wishing you didn’t have it may not make the fear less real. The disorder isn’t a lack of bravery — you may face your fear every day of your life.
There is good news if you’re living with social anxiety. Therapy, in particular cognitive-behavioral therapy, has helped many people experience positive change and even eliminate the symptoms.
To work well, therapy will introduce you to new ways of thinking that will allow deep associations about social interactions to change. Even though your social anxiety may be so deeply familiar it feels like an essential part of you, your brain is surprisingly flexible. Irrational thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and perceptions can change as a result of therapy.
Getting Help With Social Anxiety
Look for a therapist who understands social anxiety and has experience helping people recover from this particular problem. Your therapist should be willing to answer questions about the topic and give you an idea of what to expect from therapy.
Your therapist will understand that your deepest fears are serious and will listen to the ways that they affect your life. He or she will listen to you and not minimize your experience or ask you to do things that are simply beyond your capacity.
Once you have found an experienced therapist, set yourself up to succeed. Gather support and encouragement and arrange relatively stress-free environments for the time you are in therapy, to the best of your ability. You will be challenging yourself with new ideas and concepts. Set up the best conditions possible, which may mean arranging breaks from negative environments or negative people. Create a peaceful window of time in which to learn new habits, as much as you can.
Keys for Overcoming Social Anxiety
Many people have overcome social anxiety. Therapeutic work is not easy, but once you begin the process, you may well find it’s not as painful as your regular levels of anxiety. Here are a few of the key elements for overcoming the disorder:
- Work with an experienced, skilled therapist who understands the disorder
- Commit to consider, discuss and try exercises you agree to in therapy even if they seem difficult
- Practice even when it feels repetitive, so that new strategies can become habits
- Celebrate small victories, recognizing that you will meet goals and adjust expectations in small stages until you finally meet your goals
Rewards of Treatment for Social Anxiety
While you’re in the thick of this disorder, it may be almost impossible to imagine ever getting any better. Life can feel like one anxiety nightmare after another and even contacting a therapist can seem too scary to consider.
If you make the leap and find a therapist who can help you, perhaps contacting a local therapy centre by email or arranging a session of online therapy, you can find a way out of the maze of barriers social anxiety erects. Sooner than you’d imagine, you may find yourself looking without fear at things that seem impossible right now.
Social anxiety is debilitating, but it can also be controlled in a relatively short period through work with a skilled therapist. Your web search, email or phone call to a therapist who can treat your social anxiety is your first step away from fear and into freedom.
Edited by: Mayte Parada, PhD Psychology. Montreal Therapy Centre.