Do you frequently decline invitations to social gatherings due to apprehension about feeling out of place? Do you experience fear of potential criticism from others when entering a room? Or perhaps, does the mere idea of being amongst a group of individuals elicit palpitations within you?
In order to live a normal life, it is impossible to completely avoid social interactions. Over the years, several studies and psychological research have indicated that good social relationships are a significant factor in our overall happiness.
Social anxiety is the most prevalent form of anxiety disorder, affecting approximately 12% of individuals at some point in their lives. Isolation resulting from social anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which can have detrimental effects on an individual’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall well-being.
Research has shown that it’s the third most common mental health condition in the world.
To gain a better understanding of this phenomenon, it is important to first comprehend:
Why do we experience emotions?
Emotions can be defined as affective reactions of moderate intensity and relatively short duration, accompanied by changes in bodily activity that reflect an individual’s attitude towards reality. The word “emotion” derives from the Latin word “emotionis,” which translates to “the impulse that brings reactions.”
From this definition, we can surmise that emotions exist to set us in motion, either towards something or away from it.
As human beings, we all have basic needs such as affection, security, love, food, and shelter. Additionally, we require status, meaning, attention, and stimulation to exercise our creativity. Some emotions propel us towards experiences that satisfy these needs, while others lead us away from situations that could prevent us from fulfilling them.
Consider emotions like lust, love, and anger, which motivate us towards certain experiences. Alternatively, emotions such as fear, terror, and disgust push us away from certain experiences.
Ideally, we hope that our emotions are functioning correctly and leading us towards what is beneficial for us. However, sometimes they may fail us. Social phobia or anxiety is an example of such failure.
Furthermore, the more we avoid a situation, the more fear can grow around it. Our emotional brain draws conclusions from our behavior. If we repeatedly avoid a situation, it perceives it as dangerous, leading to an even greater increase in fear to ensure that we remain distant from it.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is a mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to interact with others in social situations. It’s also known as social phobia, and it’s a type of anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety often feel intense fear, nervousness, or embarrassment in situations where they’re expected to interact with others.
The causes of social anxiety are not fully understood, but they may include a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some people may be more susceptible to developing social anxiety due to a family history of anxiety or a traumatic experience in the past.
There exists a clear distinction between feeling uneasy in unfamiliar environments and the sense of despair that can arise even in the presence of friends and family.
It is also crucial to differentiate social anxiety from the state of introversion. While nobody relishes being judged, criticized, or disliked by others, for some individuals, the apprehension of receiving negative feedback can escalate into paranoia and trigger panic the moment they come into contact with others.
Individuals who suffer from social anxiety disorder experience an irrational fear of being watched, judged, or evaluated, accompanied by feelings of embarrassment and humiliation. In certain cases, the intensity of anxiety and discomfort can become so extreme that it impedes everyday life.
The distinguishing factor between ordinary shyness and social anxiety lies in the severity and persistence of the symptoms displayed. Individuals with social anxiety disorder typically exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be categorized into two broad categories: emotional and physical.
Emotional symptoms include:
- an intense fear of situations and places where unfamiliar people are present
- a fear of being the center of attention
- a fear of saying something inappropriate
- a fear of situations where one might be judged
- an inability to make eye contact with others
- a fear of being discovered as anxious or ashamed
- a fear of looking foolish or peculiar
- eating in front of others
- engaging in face-to-face telephone conversations.
- individuals with social anxiety disorder may have anxiety that persists for several days before upcoming events.
Physical symptoms include:
- excessive sweating
- muscle tension
- a rapid heartbeat
- breathing difficulties
- dry mouth
Despite being aware that their fears are exaggerated, people with social anxiety disorder often feel unable to control their anxiety.
Overall, it is important to recognize the symptoms of social anxiety disorder and seek help from mental health professionals. With appropriate treatment, individuals with social anxiety disorder can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
When to ask for help
Social anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects many people. While it is natural to feel nervous or uncomfortable in social situations at times, social anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, intense fear and anxiety about social situations, often leading to avoidance of these situations.
If you are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
Here are some signs that it may be time to see a doctor:
- Your social anxiety is affecting your daily life: If your fear of social situations is causing you to avoid normal activities like going to work, school, or social events, it may be time to seek help.
- Your anxiety is interfering with your relationships: If your fear of social situations is affecting your ability to form and maintain healthy relationships with others, it may be time to seek help.
- You have tried self-help strategies, but they are not working: If you have tried self-help strategies like breathing exercises or exposure therapy, but your anxiety is not improving, it may be time to seek professional help.
- Your anxiety is causing physical symptoms: If your anxiety is causing physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or a rapid heartbeat, it may be time to seek help.
- You are experiencing depression or other mental health issues: Social anxiety disorder often co-occurs with other mental health conditions like depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
- Overall, if you are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder that are interfering with your daily life, relationships, or overall well-being, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. With appropriate treatment, individuals with social anxiety disorder can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many people have successfully overcome social anxiety with the help of therapy and self-help strategies. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support. With the right treatment, it’s possible to manage anxiety and live a fulfilling life.
In addition to therapy, self-help strategies can be very effective. One such strategy is practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and sweating, and promote a sense of calm.
Challenging negative thoughts and beliefs is another helpful self-help strategy for managing social anxiety. People with social anxiety often have a tendency to engage in negative self-talk and may have beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” or “Everyone is judging me.” Challenging these thoughts with evidence and rational thinking can help break the cycle of negative thinking and reduce anxiety.
Gradual exposure to feared social situations is another effective self-help strategy for managing the anxiety. This involves gradually facing feared social situations in a controlled manner, starting with less anxiety-provoking situations and working up to more challenging ones. This can help desensitize a person to the fear and anxiety associated with social situations and build confidence in their ability to handle them.
Other self-help strategies for managing social anxiety disorder include mindfulness meditation, which can help increase present-moment awareness and reduce anxiety, and developing a supportive social network, which can provide encouragement and understanding during the treatment process.