What is Social Anxiety?
Do you feel uncomfortable when you need to interact socially? Do you always have this fear that other people are judging and saying negative things about you? Do you blush and shake uncontrollably when you’re the center of attention? These are only some indications that you have social anxiety.
There are two forms of social anxiety. The first one is developmental. This happens in early childhood and most children are able to outgrow the condition, although, it may resurface as the person grows older and may even develop into the second form of social anxiety, which is the chronic kind. There are cases when the condition never happens again after the person stops experiencing the symptoms. There are also those who experience it every time they are faced with a situation that triggers their emotions.
It is common to feel anxious when facing a group of people, especially strangers, but it becomes a disorder when it happens all the time. This is the second form of social anxiety; chronic social anxiety disorder, also referred to as social phobia. When you have this condition, you cannot help but feel intense nervousness and self-consciousness whenever faced with many people. Your social fears are mostly unreasonable and baseless.
What does a person with this kind of disorder fear?
- Making mistakes
- Looking bad
- Getting embarrassed
- Getting humiliated in front of many people
- Feeling that other people are making fun of them
Most of the people with this phobia lack social skills and have limited social exposure. They suffer from extreme distress when facing other people, which sometimes lead to panic attacks. This is the reason why they tend to avoid going out in anticipation of whatever could happen. These people know that their fears are baseless, but they are finding it too difficult to overcome the problem and avoid overthinking.
When does anxiety become a problem? You will know that your condition is becoming serious when it is already interfering with your daily routine, and if you get to this point, you may need to seek professional help. Many kinds of situations can prompt the feeling of anxiety, including presenting or performing in front of an audience, asking questions, doing activities, such as working, drinking or eating in front of others, using public urinals, answering the phone, going
out on a date, attending parties and any events where there is a chance to become the center of attention.
The condition is linked to certain mental disorders, such as depression, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
What are the symptoms that you have a social phobia?
First, you will always feel that there is something wrong, but you just cannot put your finger on it. Even though you have identified the problems, it will be hard for you to accept that these are already symptoms of an illness or disorder.
Here are some of the symptoms of a social anxiety disorder:
- The feeling of anxiety becomes intense whenever you are placed in any social circumstances.
- You choose to avoid getting engaged in any social events because you have this constant fear that something bad or embarrassing will happen.
- Kids with this kind of disorder express their emotional discomfort by throwing fits of tantrums, never letting go of their parents and by crying.
- When you are faced with a situation wherein you are uncomfortable, your heart tends to beat faster, you cannot control the shaking of your body, you blush, feel confused, get upset stomach or diarrhea and muscle tension.
Is it a common kind of disorder?
Social anxiety is the second most common kind of anxiety disorder in the US and ranks third among the most common mental disorder. In the US alone, more than 19 million people are suffering from social phobia. It can hit anyone, no matter what your age or gender is, but more women suffer from the condition than men.
Your first weapon against this condition is information. Know as much detail about it so that you will know what to do to help yourself and identify the symptoms when it is already time to consult a doctor. Do you want to live the rest of your life not knowing what could have happened if only you had more confidence to go out and mingle with other people? Would you allow more days to pass by without giving yourself a chance to explore the world outside of your comfort zone? You have to break free from the condition and never allow it to take over your life.
Learning More About Social Phobia
There are many factors that can cause social anxiety, and they are grouped into: psychological, biological and environmental.
- Psychological. The disorder or recurrence of your anxiety may be due to a traumatic experience in the past. It can be a humiliating social incident, getting bullied, or being neglected by those whom you considered as friends.
- Biological. You are more likely to develop the disorder if a first-degree relative has it or battled with it. This can also happen as a result of certain abnormalities in the brain circuits, specifically the parts that are responsible for controlling the emotions and handling a person’s fight or flight response.
- Environmental. The fear may evolve from seeing how other people were embarrassed or humiliated in public. Children who were raised in a sheltered manner and were not taught proper social skills are prone to develop the disorder.
The Stages of Social Anxiety
1. Infancy to early part of adolescence
The condition is said to be a normal part of a person’s developmental growth. It first occurs during infancy. This is actually an important stage to go through because it can hone a person’s social skills as he/she gets older.
A person is bound to experience repeated social anxiety attacks during the latter part of his/her childhood until early adolescence. This is due to the cognitive development and more frequent exposure to stress and pressure.
Adolescents suffer from social anxiety mainly due to issues with peers, self-consciousness and public speaking. This can also happen as a result of a traumatic past experience that continues to haunt the person when he/she needs to be in the same position. In most cases, adolescents learn from all the experience and surpass the stage by meeting with the demands and social pressure.
The sad fact remains that the number of children diagnosed with the disorder gets higher through time. This can lead to bigger problems if the symptoms will be ignored due to lack of information. This can cause a person to lose interest with his/her studies or in going out and making friends. It is not easy to determine the symptoms, especially when you are monitoring a child’s behavior. You have to get the help of a professional to determine if your child is just painfully shy or is already showing signs of social anxiety disorder.
It is easier to spot the condition in adults. Some of the most common behaviors include having stage fright, shying away from any social activities, and keeping to themselves most of the time. The need to get tested and medically cured is determined by the intensity of one’s social anxiety. When it becomes too uncomfortable to the point that the behavior is already interfering with one’s progress, then this is a clear sign that you ought to get a professional help.
How is the disorder diagnosed?
You must first consult with a general practitioner who will assess your health. He/she will ask questions about your medical history in order to make an evaluation. You will be asked to have a physical exam. The doctor needs to make sure that nothing else is bothering you aside from the anxiety.
There are no laboratory tests involved in the procedure, but your doctor may recommend other tests if he/she suspects that the condition may be a result of a physical illness. You never know, but the painful shyness may come as a result of how your body responds to an illness that you may still not be aware of.
The doctor can give you proper medications or recommend that you go to a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or psychologist. These doctors are capable of asking the right questions in order to identify the roots of the problem. The evaluation period is not easy. At this point, you will be prompted to remember the details and memories of the past that are haunting you and are causing your anxiety.
You must never hold back. Your doctor is trying to dig deeper in order to understand where the problem is really coming from. You have to help your doctor in understanding the situation; what led you here, what has caused the condition, and what triggers the symptoms.
It may take a number of sessions before the doctor’s verdict is finally given. This is to ensure that everything has been covered and the doctor understands the intensity of the disorder and the duration of the symptoms.
Developing Your Own Strategies to Get Past Social Anxiety
Before seeking medical attention, you can help yourself cope with the phobia and overcome your fears. Here are the two most important facts about the condition:
- Anxiety is normal. You need not eliminate the feeling, but instead, learn how to manage it. It helps you when you are faced with danger. It alerts your mind and gives you energy to escape or fight the danger.
- Anxiety becomes a problem when it alerts your system of a danger when there is none.
How do you manage your social phobia? You can begin by following these steps:
1. Get a better understanding of what you are going through. What do you fear the most and how do you typically react when facing it? You have to list out everything that you can remember. Designate a notebook where you will keep the entries about the details of your condition.
This notebook will be your anxiety diary or journal. Include the dates when you experienced social anxiety, what triggered it and the symptoms that you went through.
2. Learn the kind of relaxation exercises that can help in soothing your emotions and in calming your nerves, especially when a threat is present.
- Learn how to relax your muscles. By tensing and relaxing the muscles, you are helping your system to have lower levels of tension and stress.
- Breathe slowly. This will help in calming your nerves. Take slow breaths through your nose. When anxiety attacks, you tend to breathe faster, which makes you feel lightheaded and as a result, more anxious.
In these exercises, you are not trying to totally eliminate anxiety. Instead, you are helping yourself to cope with the emotion and use it only when it is needed, like when there is an imminent danger.
3. Think positive. Look at your anxiety diary. Did you notice anything? You may tend to feel anxious because you are always thinking in a negative manner. You often think ahead that something bad will happen when you are in a public place and social gatherings. You may have very low self-esteem.
It is time to reverse the attitude. First of all, list down the negative thoughts that you ought to get rid of, which include the following:
- I am not as smart or as good-looking as other people are.
- No one appreciates me.
- Nobody likes me.
- I am bound to make myself look like a fool.
- People will not be interested with what I am going to say.
- My opinions do not matter.
- People will notice my condition and they will make fun of me.
- The world will go on even if I don’t exist.
Again, go back to your understanding of anxiety. It only becomes a problem when you start thinking that there is a danger when, in fact, there is really none. All these negative thoughts make you feel more anxious. Your thoughts are only what you deem will happen, but it doesn’t mean that all these will really happen.
You have to find ways in order to revert the negative thoughts into something positive.
The next step involves learning to evaluate your negative thoughts. Ask yourself whether your thoughts are based on facts and whether they are helpful or not. If they aren’t, try and identify more accurate and helpful thoughts.
Here’s an exercise to begin thinking in a positive and rational manner:
- Pick a situation. For example, you ought to do the grocery, but you are too afraid to face the crowds. You are thinking ahead that you might do something embarrassing or someone might put you on the spot.
- Ask yourself, are you sure that you will get embarrassed when you go to the grocery? When was the last time that you went to the store? What happened then?
- If you really felt humiliated the last time, what has caused you to feel that way? For example, you were asked by a child to reach something for him. You got the item, but while giving it to the child, you accidentally dropped several items to the floor. You felt embarrassed and immediately left the store.
Go back to the situation. Isn’t the most important thing that happened is that you were able to help a child? Somebody swiftly arranged the fallen products after you have left without thinking too much about who caused the commotion. You could have stayed to help and eliminate the feeling of guilt. You may feel relieved to actually hear the child thanking you for your kind deed.
- Look at one incident from different point of views. For the grocery staff, you may be a nuisance, but for the child, you were a hero. This kind of situation happens frequently in this kind of venue. You are not going to be penalized for it, not unless the items that you have dropped are fragile and got broken. In this case, you will be asked to pay for the products.
- One person’s opinion about you doesn’t reflect everyone else’s.
- You are not expected to please everybody.
- Conquer that fear. Head to the grocery. What’s the worst thing that could happen? If ever your fear will come true, do not run from the incident. Look at what happened and do whatever is expected from you as an adult. If you ought to say sorry, then do it. If your assistance is needed, then give it. If you need to pay for damaged items, then pay.
Aside from preparing for the worst, you must also begin thinking that a trip to the grocery store can actually be a breeze. Even though, there are days when accidents happen, there are also days when everything will turn out fine.
- Think about a friend or a family member who is having an anxiety attack. What will you advise this person in order to get over his/her negative thoughts? How will you make him/her feel brave enough to conquer his/her fears?
4. Let go of your unrealistic beliefs. You are not perfect and no one expects you to be. You are bound to make mistakes. Instead of getting embarrassed, you have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. It is normal to feel anxious, but you must know your limits. Never allow this anxiousness to stop you from doing something or from going someplace.
You have to start accepting the truth. You are allowed to make mistakes. Do not be too hard on yourself. Do not expect everyone to like you. You don’t like everyone either.
Always evaluate your negative thoughts. Not all these thoughts will turn into reality. If any of these happen, there are things that you can do to cope and deal with the situation. This is where you will focus your mind into. What will you do when faced with a potentially embarrassing incident? How can you turn it into something positive and productive?
5. Go out there. Face your fears and evaluate what will happen. You will never know what will really happen if you will not allow yourself to experience what you are afraid of. Is there a tinge of truth to your belief?
Go ahead and shake the hand of a stranger. How does it feel? How did the stranger react? You need this kind of exercise to prompt yourself to act randomly and for you to know how other people really feel when you have done something out of the box.
Start Engaging Yourself
Stop avoiding the circumstances that threaten and make you feel afraid. Most people with this condition tend to shy away from the things, incidents and people that trigger their anxiety. They choose to stay in the comfort zone. They speak less because they are worried that people will find their thoughts boring and uninteresting. They would excuse themselves and find a place where there are fewer people, in fear that they might experience something embarrassing.
The subtle avoidance of the situations that trigger your anxiety can lead to actions that you will later regret. These actions include taking drugs and getting drunk. While this can make you forget the problem at hand, it will resurface once the effects of drugs and alcohol have faded.
Other people avoid a potential threat by doing the following:
- Wearing heavy makeup so that no one will see that they are blushing.
- Asking irrelevant questions in order to change the topic and avoid getting asked to share personal details.
- Zoning out in order to distract themselves.
- Refusing to smile to other people, avoiding eye contact and speaking in a low voice. They do not want the attention and make sure that they don’t get it.
- Rehearsing what they will do and say, even though they still aren’t sure whether or not an incident will happen.
Do not get overprotective of yourself. You have to experience how it’s like to be the center of attention. You have to step up in times when it is necessary. You have to be there in the moment and learn how to react according to what is happening.
You are not expected to change overnight. This takes time and lots of practice so you have to begin as soon as possible.
How do you practice?
1. Go out more often. Expose yourself to various social circumstances and meet new people.
2. Always try to boost your self-esteem and confidence.
3. Begin expanding your social network. Part of your goal now is to develop new relationships. Aside from casual acquaintances, you must also develop friendships that will last. Here are some good venues where you can hunt for new friends:
- Join a club that suits your talents and interests. This can be a group for crafters or artists, a travel club or a religious organization.
- You can also begin picking up a new hobby and develop new friendships from the venue. You can enroll yourself in a gym or join yoga sessions. You can also play sports, like tennis, running or swimming.
- When you go out of your house, try to start a conversation with your neighbors. You can also begin mingling more often with your classmates or officemates.
- Become a volunteer and meet kindred souls. You can offer your services for free at hospitals and various causes. You can also join charitable and fundraising events.
- You can widen your skills by taking art lessons or learning new languages.
- Take advantage of the technology and join an online dating site. This is a good step to know more about the person whom you are interested to date before actually meeting him/her in person. Just make sure that the friendship will go beyond the cyberspace.
4. Evaluate your social skills. If you think that you lack the skills, learn more about how you can improve it. If you feel like it is there, gather enough confidence to finally be able to utilize the skills and benefit from it.
5. Always move ahead. Nobody said that this is going to be easy. There will be times when you’d feel like giving up. You have to expect setbacks. For any little improvements that you have managed to achieve, make sure that you get yourself a treat as a reward.
When you are already making a progress, never go back to your old habits. Keep on improving your attitude. You are on your way to your goal of overcoming social phobia. Make it a habit to practice the skills that you have learned and find out new techniques that can help you in becoming even better.
Commit Your Two Minutes Each Day
What can happen in two minutes? Allot two minutes each day. This strategy will help in reducing your stress and anxiety and boost your self-confidence.
Did you know that the most influential leaders in the world have higher levels of testosterone? This condition gives a person a higher level of confidence. These leaders also have lower levels of cortisol, which help in giving them a better grasp of stress and the ability to handle anxiety and pressure.
You don’t have to be a leader in order to have these traits, but there is nothing wrong about thinking and acting like one. You simply have to learn the right ways that you can do to increase the levels of your testosterone and lower your system’s cortisol levels.
Where did the concept come from? This is a result of the research from reputable institutions and universities, such as The University of Oregon, The University of Texas and Harvard University. The studies found out that when your body is able to maintain the right levels of hormones, your system becomes more confident, relaxed and assertive. You become more ready in handling stress and easily adapt to it.
How do you attain the right levels of testosterone and cortisol? The levels of these hormones change in a fast manner depending on the physical, social and environmental factors that you are exposed to. No matter what you are surrounded with, you can still maintain the proper balance of the levels of these hormones by having the right body posture.
Your body language influences the levels of your hormones and your confidence. This is what Amy Cuddy, a researcher from Harvard University, and her team, found out after conducting a series of experiments.
The research classified body positions into two categories – the high power poses that are open and relaxed and the low power poses that are guarded and closed. The research came up with this conclusion. The high power poses are able to increase testosterone levels by 20 percent, which translates to increased confidence, and decrease the cortisol levels by 25 percent that works by reducing a person’s anxiety.
The Two-Minute Habit
Are you aware of “The Wonder Woman” pose? You can try searching for an image of the hero online and look closely at her pose. It is the most popular high power pose.
It is easy to do. Stand tall with your chin up and chest out. Put your hands on your hips. Maintain the pose for two minutes. Regardless of what the pose is called, this can still be done no matter what your gender is.
It is up to you when you would want to do the pose, but make sure that you do every day for at least two minutes. There are some people who escape from their busy schedules for several minutes. They perform this pose along with other breathing exercises in order to alleviate stress and feel recharged. You can also do this at the beginning of your day. You can combine this with other exercises and meditation.
Boosting your confidence doesn’t end here, but it helps a lot. Try doing the two-minute high power pose before proceeding with your job interview or presentation. Do this before leaving the house to attend a social gathering. You will immediately feel the difference.
Your effort doesn’t end here. You are a work in progress. This is an additional strategy that can help you in dealing with anxiety. Always think like a leader. Aside from having a focused mental state, you must also show your confidence through your body posture.
Watch Ted Talk about the Wonder Woman Pose for more information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Getting Professional Help for Your Social Anxiety
When you think that it is really needed, never doubt your instinct to seek the services of a professional. This will make it easier for you to conquer the problem and you will get faster results.
Set an Appointment with a Doctor
If you have already started with your anxiety journal or diary, you can bring this to the doctor. This will help him/her to analyze your condition easier. Your doctor needs to know what your life was like before the condition hit you, how it changed your life and how are you managing with it. This initial consultation can help the doctor in evaluating if you need to seek a mental health specialist.
If you don’t have an anxiety diary, simply answer all the questions of your doctor truthfully. Try to remember the tiniest details about your condition.
The mental health specialist will delve further at the roots of your problem. Where is it really coming from? How are you dealing with it? Have you ever thought about harming yourself or resorting to vices, such as drugs and alcohol? You have to lay it all out on the table. All the details that you will provide your doctor with will help him/her to come up with a better assessment of your condition.
How is Social Anxiety Treated?
The most common types of treatment for this condition are the use of medications and psychotherapy. Your doctor may also opt to combine these two for faster and more efficient results.
Psychotherapy or psychological counseling is a known effective method in treating the condition. This works by improving the symptoms and helps in building your needed confidence. The number of sessions depends on the gravity of your condition.
Among the many forms of counseling, the cognitive behavioral therapy is widely used in dealing with social anxiety. It exposes you to the factors that you fear the most in a gradual manner. It motivates you to get beyond the fear and learn how to cope with it.
You can also be advised to participate in skills training and role playing activities. This will practice your skills in interacting with other people, as you continue to work on your confidence and in getting rid of your negative thoughts.
There are many kinds of medications that you can take, depending on the frequency of the symptoms and how bad you react to the condition. For persistent symptoms, your doctor may suggest that you take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Sertraline (Zoloft) or Paroxetine (Paxil). Another option is to take the serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).
Your doctor has to monitor your progress. The medications usually begin with lower doses. Your doctor can choose to increase the doses in a gradual manner, depending on how you are reacting to it.
It usually takes several weeks to months before you see any noticeable signs of improvement. This is the reason why other doctors choose to combine medications with counseling.
A mental health professional may prescribe other medicines to help you in dealing with the symptoms of your condition. These medications include antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs are only intended for short-term use. The drugs can be sedating and addicting when taken longer than prescribed.
There are certain drugs, such as beta-blockers, that are given to help you deal immediately with a known symptom of your social anxiety. These medications reduce the trembling of your body, slow down your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. You can take the medicine before exposing yourself to an event that may trigger the symptoms of your phobia. The medications are not intended for the general and long-term treatment of the condition.
No matter what your doctor recommends to you as a treatment, never give up on it too quickly. It may take some trial and error before finding out the best solution for your problem. You have to be patient and stick to the recommended cure given by your doctor. There are cases wherein the counseling has to continue even after the symptoms are gone. There are those who are advised to continue taking their medicines to avoid a relapse.
It is important to seek the help of a therapist and never skip with your medications and doctor appointments. You have to tell your doctor all the changes that you are experiencing, whether it is good or bad.
How do you find a good therapist?
You can begin by asking around for recommendations. Ask a loved one to look for qualified professionals. To make the search easier, you can also search online for the professionals who can help you in dealing with your social anxiety.
By doing your research online, you can list out the doctors that are near your place. You can also choose to avail the services of those who live far from you, especially if you are uncomfortable with the idea of other people learning about your trips to a counselor. Many of these doctors maintain their own websites that contain most of the details that you would want to know about before setting up an appointment.
Even when you are already seeing a doctor, it is still recommended to go back to the self-help strategies on how to cope with the condition. You have to become more motivated to break free from social anxiety.
Continue doing your anxiety diary. You must also include in your entries the time when the symptoms stop from occurring and when you felt that your confidence levels have increased.
You must never stop from learning about social anxiety. Read a lot about it and how other people coped and conquered the condition. You never know, but you might help a person with a social phobia one day by sharing what you have done in order to become the better and more confident individual that you are now.
While working on improving your confidence and dealing with the condition, you must also begin taking good care of your body and overall health. Your appearance also contributes to your level of confidence. Make sure that you stay fit by doing regular exercise routines and by eating right.
There is an exciting world outside that is waiting to be explored. The experience will become more fun if you will share it with friends and even strangers. Take it slow and take your time. Learn how to cope with your condition a day at a time.