Social anxiety (social phobia) is the feeling of nervousness, intense fear, stress and overwhelming negative thoughts whenever a person has to face people. It is the consistent anxious feelings when a person has to meet people, give interview, deliver speech or any other forms of social gatherings. Social anxiety lasts for days and starts before every social event whether it’s in big or small scale. Social phobia occurs because of the fear of being judged or evaluated by people and you think that you and your abilities are not up to the mark. These negative thoughts and fear forces the person to remain isolated and this can lead to depression. A person suffering from social anxiety cannot control his/her negative feelings and can affect the person’s abilities, career, social life etc. So, it’s better to understand it and try to manage it in a proper way.
Shyness and anxiety in crowd counts as a social anxiety?
Whenever a certain social event, meeting, presentation etc. is upcoming, everybody feels somewhat tensed and nervous. Or somebody is shy by nature and feels uncomfortable in front of guests, judges, bosses and other people. This is all normal if a person can fully control his/her behavior and thoughts. If the nervousness and shyness can be controlled well and a person can function normally in daily life then it’s NOT social anxiety. If this fear, shyness and nervousness starts even days before a presentation, speech or a meeting and a person gets nervous even thinking about it and these thoughts affects his/her daily life and proper functioning then this counts as social anxiety. Contrary to normal nervousness, in social anxiety the person has no longer control on his nervousness and anxiety and cannot function properly.
Triggers (etiology) of Social Anxiety:
It is thought that social anxiety occurs due to over active amygdala. Besides, common events that trigger social anxiety are discussed below. Note that these are daily life events which are unavoidable and must be faced whatsoever.
- Stage performance.
- Meeting new people in a gathering.
- Being center of attention.
- Called out by someone in a gathering.
- Having to speak when all people are looking at you.
- Called out by teacher in a class.
- Speaking up in a meeting or presentation.
- Making phone calls.
- Using public rest rooms.
- Taking exam.
- Being criticized or teased.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder:
- Trembling and shaking of whole body and voice also.
- Face becomes red.
- Nausea and stomach upset.
- Feeling weak and short of energy. This can result to dizziness and a person can faint.
- Excessive sweating and panting.
- Always bringing a buddy/relative along in gatherings. Not able to go alone.
- Avoiding social situations to an extent that affects daily life activities and abilities of a person.
- Hiding in a social gathering and feeling uncomfortable in participating or discussing something. Not even willing to have chit-chat with people in gatherings.
- Feeling of being judges and scrutinized.
- Feeling of excessive fear and nervousness even days before any social event.
- Feeling of not being capable and thinking that you will embarrass yourself.
- Underestimating your abilities to an extent that avoiding to participate in anything thinking that you will just embarrass yourself.
- Feeling that everyone is watching you.
Social Anxiety In Children:
Children can suffer from social anxiety from an early age. They cannot make friends or participate in the class/school events. Even they are reluctant to go to school. They do not feel comfortable while talking and often remain quiet. Children with social phobia suffer from extreme distress which should be treated and not at all ignored.
Ways to cope with Social Anxiety:
Challenge your fears and negative thoughts:
When you are feeling nervous, self-conscious, anxious and fearful before any social event then remain calm and take some rest. Close your eyes and think about your fear. Think why you are feeling anxious, what is the underlying cause? You may get answers like ‘I’m incompetent and cannot do this’, ‘I will fail and embarrass myself’, ‘I cannot speak well and people will make fun of me’.
Now that you have deeply evaluated and analyzed the causes of your anxiety, it is time to get rid of them by challenging your thoughts. Just take it one by one. Close your eyes and think that do I really know that I will fail? Do I really know that I will not speak well in front of everybody? Do everyone knows about my anxiety? Is my fear visible to others? Answer yourself in a positive manner and try to wpi out these negative thoughts. Remember, it is not at all easy to replace the negative thoughts with the positive ones. But it is certainly doable!
Focus on others:
Do not make yourself tensed by focusing on your mistakes, your actions, your words etc. Just try to focus on others. Focus on what is happening around you rather than what’s going on inside you. Focus on what is going on at that time and do not beat yourself on what mistake you did earlier. Focus on other people and listen to them instead of listening to your inner fears and anxiety. Again, it is easier said than done but one can for sure try because if you are focusing on surroundings rather than yourself then certainly your fear will die.
Face your fears:
Do not run away from situations. Try to face the situation and see whether your fears were correct or not. Try to involve yourself in social situations and see if it is that difficult or it’s just your anxiety.
Hold your chest by one hand and stomach by the other. Relax yourself, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Your hand on the stomach should rise during breathing but your hand on the chest should not move much. Do this until you feel relaxed. You can try it on daily basis.
Increase in social activities:
Try to make new friends despite of your preference of being alone. Try to understand others and involve in discussions and different social activities.
Change in Lifestyle:
Avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine. Try to be more active, have good and adequate sleep and add Omega-3 fats to your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids boosts your mood and brain activity. It can be found in fish, flax seeds and walnuts.
When to call for therapy?
If you have tried all the techniques but cannot cope with this social phobia then it’s time to seek for professional help. Get counseling by a psychologist and involve in group therapies. Do not live with this social anxiety but try all possible solutions and one day you will cope with it (it certainly is possible!)