Social Anxiety is the fear of people and in particular social situations. These situations can include work scenarios as well as at social gatherings. People with social anxiety often don’t know they have it and can struggle for years before understanding their fearful reactions.
At the end of this article you’ll find some links that can offer some extra support or information.
For me, getting my head around the idea that the difficult feelings I experienced in certain situations might be social anxiety was actually a great relief. It had got to a stage in my life where I was beginning to avoid socialising as the stress was often overwhelming. Defining my social difficulties gave me the opportunity to really examine my anxiety, where it came from and what I could do about it.
How do you know you have social anxiety?
Does the invitation to a dinner party fill you with dread and fear? Rather than looking forward to meeting new people do you wrack your brain for an excuse not to go? Do meetings at work leave you feeling traumatised? Do you spend your time in meetings worrying about being put on the spot? Do the feeling you experience in these and other situations include; heart pounding, shortness of breath, self-consciousness, blushing, shaking, sweating, panic and feelings of being trapped? Do you also beat yourself up after these kind of events and then experience feelings of guilt, shame and depression? If this sounds like your experience then getting to grips with social anxiety may be good news.
What’s good about it?
Understanding why we struggle is a huge step in the right direction. A step towards being kind to ourselves and away from beating ourselves up followed by self imposed isolation. Social anxiety can be a very lonely experience. For some people, though, understanding that they just prefer their own company and simply to give themselves permission to enjoy this is all that is needed. Remember, there is no right or wrong way for putting ourselves where we really want to be. However, for the majority who struggle with this type of anxiety they find themselves caught between how they would like to be and how they actually are. This is also good news as it point to how you really could be. The next step is how to get there and this can take a while but is worth the journey and the effort as I am testament.
What’s the cause?
People have social anxiety for a variety of reasons. My personal opinion is that somewhere down the line in our past we have taken on board that we are not ok as we are and this has lead to self-consciousness. This may not mean that we were criticised or bullied, as is often the case, but that we may also have been over protected. In the latter case it is often when individuals leave home that the problems start. In the former it it is generally our school where we experienced trauma as a result of sustained bullying and rejection.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a phobia and is one of the most common forms of phobia. When someone experiences a phobia such as claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) they experience panic and stress similar to those of social anxiety. These symptoms can be found in all forms of phobia. When any animal is in danger three responses arise; fight, flight or freeze. Adrenaline is produced and prepares the animal to fight or flight. With freeze the same reaction occurs but the stress is so overwhelming that the body is paralysed. This state is sometimes regarded as catatonic. The same survival responses occur during the experience of phobia but the reality is our live are not in danger yet our bodies and brains seem to believe this to be the case and react accordingly.
What can you do about it?
Psychotherapy can be a great help in talking about your experiences and what may have happened in the past. Body-based psychotherapy works for many as does EMDR which is designed to release trauma from the mind and body. Joining a social anxiety group can also be a great way of supporting yourself. Knowing that I was not alone in my experience helped me. Social anxiety effects many people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The important thing to remember is that anxiety is part of all our lives and experiences and is a vital feeling but it doesn’t have to rule our lives – we can make friends with it and move towards where we really want to be.
For social anxiety groups in London check out the social anxiety self-help group.