Social anxiety involves the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. It centres around the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. Social anxiety has a tendency to cause anxiety and fear in almost all areas of a person’s life. It’s cited as the third largest mental health issue in the world today.
What is social anxiety?
It’s a common problem that usually rears its head with teenagers. For some people the condition improves as they get older, although for a lot of people affected it doesn’t just go away on its own. It can be very distressing and have a big impact on your life, but there are ways to minimise its negative impact. Therapy with an experienced therapist can help you to get your life back and overcome social anxiety.
People with social anxiety are often seen as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested. Most of the time they want to make friends and be sociable, but the anxiety or fear is holding them back.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
• Avoiding or worrying a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with others and parties
• Dreading everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping
• Finding it difficult to carry out tasks when others are watching – you may feel like you’re being watched and judged constantly
• Worrying about doing something you think is embarrassing to others, such as blushing, sweating or appearing incompetent
• Fearing criticism, avoiding eye contact or having low self-esteem
• Having symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or palpitations
• Having panic attacks (an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, usually only for a few minutes)
Self-help can help to reduce your social anxiety and you might find it a useful first step before trying other treatments. Therapy is seen as the most effective way to change neural pathways in the brain permanently.
Self-help for Social Anxiety
- Replace your unrealistic beliefs with more rational ones – for example, if you feel a social situation went badly, are there any facts to support this or are you just assuming the worst?
- Don’t think too much about how others see you – pay attention to others instead and remember that your anxiety symptoms aren’t as obvious as you might think
- Start to try and do activities that you would normally avoid – this can be tough at first, so start with small goals and gradually work towards more feared activities
- Try to understand your anxiety more – think about how you behave in certain social situations to help you get a clearer idea of the problems you want to tackle – keep a journal to see if there are any patterns.
Social anxiety and Children
Speak to your GP if you’re worried about your child. Your doctor will ask about your child’s problems and talk to them about how they feel. Therapy will be tailored to your child’s age and will often involve your help (you may be given training and self-help materials to use between sessions). It may also take place in a small group. Signs of social anxiety in a child include:
• being very reliant on their parents or carers
• crying more than usual
• avoiding interaction with other children and adults
• having frequent tantrums
• fear of going to school or taking part in classroom activities, school events and social events
• not asking for help at school
Social anxiety is a fully treatable condition and can be overcome with effective therapy, work, and patience. If you or someone you know is suffering from social anxiety, I’m here to help. Find out more about the therapies I offer here.