Social anxiety, also known as social phobia is a mental disorder that causes one to be fearful in social situations. You experience fear and anxiety in these social situations, fear of being judged negatively, humiliated, evaluated poorly or watched by others. It is different from shyness and more disruptive in your life than shyness and shyness does not come with the fear of being judged by others. It all depends on the intensity of the fear, how disruptive it is and how much effort you put into avoiding such situations. You may have fear in social situations such as:
- Public speaking
- Going on a date
- Taking or making phone calls
- Eating in front of people
- Correcting your order in a restaurant
- Asking for help at a restaurant or a public place, even including telling the conductor you’re about to alight.
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by fear and worry around social situations. A diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder will usually rely or symptoms listen in the DSM- 5 which are:
- A fear of one or more social situations that could involve scrutiny from others
- Having a fear of acting in a way that will lead to a negative evaluation by others, or upset or offend others
- A specific situation nearly always provokes fear or anxiety
- The person either avoids the situation or attends with intense anxiety or fear
- Fear is out of proportion to the threat
- Fear or anxiety is persistent, usually lasting 6 months or more
- Fear and anxiety disrupt daily living
- Other symptoms or health conditions cannot explain the fear and anxiety the person feels.
If you experience most of these symptoms for 6 months or more you may have social anxiety disorder. It is important to differentiate the disorder from regular anxiety. Regular anxiety may last a short period or not be disruptive to your life. It is also normal to feel some anxiety before doing something new or something you find daunting, however if you experience these symptoms more often than not or for more than 6 months, consider talking to a mental health professional.
Other more recognizable symptoms include:
- Trembling hands or weakness in the knees
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Intense fear of interacting with strangers
- Fear of doing something embarrassing
- Analyzing your performance or flaws after interacting with someone
- Anxiety in anticipation of doing something that involves social situations
- Expecting the worst possible outcome from a negative experience involving social interaction.
While no specific cause of social anxiety has been identified, it is thought to be a complex interaction between environmental factors, genetics and biological factors. No one factor can be shown to cause social anxiety, as how all these factors interact is still being studied. These are the major factors that can cause social anxiety disorder but there are other factors that can contribute, such as:
- History of abuse whether physical or emotional. Negative childhood experiences such as bullying, abuse, trauma may make you more prone to social anxiety.
- Over-controlling parenting styles have been shown to increase the likelihood of a child developing social anxiety.
Social anxiety is manageable and you can also seek professional treatment for the same. Your options include professional treatment and self- management.
- Seeking professional counseling from a qualified counselor.
- Medication if your counselor sees it necessary for management, this can also be advised by seeing a psychiatrist.
- Challenge negative thoughts you have by questioning them or reassuring yourself with more positive or encouraging thoughts. This also helps to reframe your thoughts.
- Breathing exercises and grounding techniques help with the symptoms of social anxiety.
- Journaling to keep track of your thoughts and feelings can help you to identify triggers or patterns in your behavior. This makes it easier to manage.
- Avoiding substance use, as most are likely to make the symptoms worse. Or they may not solve the root problems causing the social anxiety.
- Group therapy and support groups can help in finding community.
- Exposure therapy can help you face your fears in small doses, this will get you slowly used to social situations that may cause you anxiety.
- Practicing or rehearsing social situations beforehand with a friend such as interviews, phone calls or public speaking.
- Asking for help from your social support system,whether this is family or friends. This also includes communicating with them that you have/ experience social anxiety.
- Have constant check- ins with yourself and remember to always be kind to yourself. While social anxiety may have interfered with your life before, you will eventually figure out how to handle it. Take it one day at a time, and allow yourself to make mistakes along the way, it is okay.
Social anxiety is manageable and treatable, these tips will also help with general anxiety disorders. And can be helpful to you if you experience general everyday anxiety.