“I never run errands for my parents like my siblings did”, said 19 year old Sophia. “I was always afraid that I would say or do something else. I always feel like people’s eyes bore holes in my back.”
“I failed my test in English because it was a presentation before the class and our teacher but I couldn’t just bring myself to do it ” – Andy Boddes
“I’m the first one to leave church every Sunday. I dash out before the last amen after ‘the Grace’. I simply cannot bear the hugs and greetings members dish out to one another after service, so I take the nearest exit”, lamented 45 years old Emily.
Hearing statements like the above ones is not uncommon. Usually, one or more people we’ve come across make statements similar to these so we can all agree that social anxiety is not unusual.
It is normal to feel awkward in some social situations; it is also very normal to feel shy, nervous, or uncomfortable in situations where we might be judged, put in the spotlight or meet new people.
Addressing your classmates, talking to an administrator, sitting in an interview room, visiting your friend’s house for the first time, meeting someone high up the social ladder or starting a new job are several instances where you might feel very awkward and uncomfortable interacting with people.
You might have this intense fear about how it would go and if you had your way, you would stay out of it completely. This kind of anxiety may not actually stop us from participating in important events we would love to because it wears off over time.
However, for some people, this kind of situation may negatively impact their work because they may not have as much room for readjustment as they wish. This can slow down their growth in their work life, relationships and personal lives. This situation is generally described as social anxiety.
Social Anxiety, according to Psyche, ” is a fear of negative evaluation and rejection.”
If you have been living with social anxiety and wondering how weird you look or act, please know that you are far from being alone. Countless people are living with social anxiety and are not even sure how to deal with it. They feel fear every day—of interaction, of being judged by strangers, of being rejected in a social scene, of performing poorly—the possibilities are numerous.
Social anxiety is your brain’s way of alerting you to social threats. Though such threats may not even materialize, they’re just there to serve your instincts and make you hyperaware. If the reverse were the case, you would be right to say that social anxiety is a friend that has good intentions towards you. But it can be deceiving most of the time because it mostly holds you back from dealing with important issues in life.
Therefore, it is very important to deal with your social anxiety since it has a huge impact on your life, career and relationships. It’s a good thing that social anxiety can be addressed and curtailed to serve you better.
So, if you often feel stressed in any social situation, learning more about social anxiety and its different concepts would be helpful to you.
Some Misconceptions about Social Anxiety
Social Anxiety is not social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder is a persistent anxiety disorder that doesn’t seem to go away. SAD triggers your nerves and sends your thoughts into overdrive at the mere thought of doing any social activity.
According to Psychologist Dawn Potter, “if you have anxiety that routinely pops up in social situations that causes distress or inhibits you from doing things you want to do, then we might start to consider this a disorder.
A person with social anxiety disorder would have frequent anxiety, panic or significant discomfort in a social situation. Then they would want to avoid that situation or would enter that situation with a lot of distress.”
Social Anxiety is not introversion
Introversion is a personality trait that shows your social preference by the kind of people you love to meet, how often you meet, etc., or by being quiet in social situations, while social anxiety is the fear of socializing.
Psychologist Dawn Potter also states that “Even if extroverts are generally outgoing and talkative, and like meeting new people, they can also feel nervous, anxious or on edge when meeting new people and performing in front of groups.”
So, you can be an introvert without social anxiety and you can have social anxiety without being introverted.
Social Anxiety is not shyness
Anyone can experience shyness; shyness is simply an attitude reserved for certain social situations. Social anxiety is many steps ahead of shyness because shyness doesn’t affect your day-to-day interactions with people and is easier to adapt to than social anxiety.
Signs of social anxiety
There are several physical and physiological signs of social anxiety.
- You always feel awkward or worry about doing something embarrassing, such as blushing, tripping, sweating, etc.
- You worry about everyday activities such as meeting people, going to school, etc.
- You fear being criticized.
- You maintain a stiff posture around other people.
- You avoid making eye contact with people during interactions.
- You feel your mind go blank when you want to say something important.
- You experience symptoms like sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, etc. during a social situation.
How to Deal with Social Anxiety: 6 Ways to Deal with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can indeed feel overwhelming, but there are several effective ways to navigate and overcome it.
1. Try to understand more about your anxiety
How does it begin? What social situations trigger anxiety? Describe your thoughts. What comes to mind first? How do you behave in such situations? Come up with an alternative. In what way can you act to reduce your triggers?
You can start by writing these points down. They would help you understand yourself and your feelings.
2. Build up your conversational skills
Learn to start conversations. A few conversation starter tips would be helpful to ease awkwardness. Starting a conversation fosters interest and once the ground is open for discussion on topics that match your interests, social anxiety may fly out the window.
3. Practice public speaking
Public speaking triggers social anxiety, no doubt but practicing it can help you deal with it. You can start by reading a script in front of your family members, then your friends. Put up your hands when a question is asked in class and try to voice out an answer, however incorrect it might be.
When you are included in a conversation, don’t try to buy your way out with silence; instead, drop your idea on the subject. That way, you will feel yourself warming up to the people around you. These little actions would help to wear off the feeling of judgment from others, especially if your audience is very supportive.
4. Be kind to yourself
This is a proven approach to dealing with social anxiety. It is easy to think of yourself as a weirdo if you are not properly aware of your situation. It is also easy to conclude that you are stupid. Woah! Slow down. You are a very unique individual who just hasn’t figured out how to harness the strength within you. So the first thing you should do is stop, bring all your thoughts to the center and focus on yourself.
In social situations where you feel you are drifting away, be kind to yourself and use words like, “I can do this”. Analyzing your triggers would help you know what situations to be in and which to avoid. So stay tuned to yourself.
5. Seek medical help
Treatments are available for social anxiety and seeking medical help gets you access to these treatments. This is another effective way to deal with social anxiety. Though many don’t bother with this aspect, seeking and having support is very important.
From medical options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a talk session with a therapist would help you identify negative thought patterns and deal with them. Other medical help includes doing self-guided therapy and taking antidepressant medicines. However, the most effective method is behavioral therapy.
6. Do the things that scare you
Intentionally doing the things you are afraid of helps to improve your self-confidence because you will suddenly begin feeling a sense of accomplishment when you reach a feat you never thought you could attain while social anxiety was still lurking within you. That good feeling will push you to try to take control of the things that trigger your anxiety.
Now, this is not something you do and wait for the magic to keep happening, you have to consistently practice doing these things. The more, the better. You can do this by listing all social situations you feel awkward in, then making a plan to tackle each situation weekly. To make it more fulfilling, reward yourself after hitting a milestone.
Social anxiety is hard to deal with, truly. But with time and the right resources and energy put into it, you can effectively deal with social anxiety.