Social anxiety can be described as the fear of negative evaluation and judgment in social situations. Most people may experience some sort of social anxiety, especially in situations where they meet new people, and it is considered normal. People with high social anxiety has a fear of behaving in a way that will humiliate or embarrass themselves in social situations. They might be also worried about showing physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, shaking that may cause them to be negatively evaluated. They worry that people might describe them as weird, stupid, boring, weak, or unlikable. In such environments, they focus all their attention on themselves, begin to observe how they behave, think about how they appear in the eyes of others, and while they evaluate themselves negatively, they would believe others also do so.
High levels of social anxiety might interfere with your social interactions such as meeting new people and making friends. it might also negatively influence your professional life such as engaging in meaningful conversations or giving presentations and participating to team meetings. Some people might also struggle with shopping or asking directions to strangers. Unless treated, social anxiety might restrict your participation to daily life and might lower your self-esteem.
Social anxiety can significantly impact various aspects of personal and professional interactions, leading to stress and discomfort. Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can be beneficial for those struggling with social anxiety, as effective interventions and strategies are available to manage and alleviate its symptoms. Individuals can also implement self-care and mindfulness strategies to help themselves with social anxiety.
Understanding Social Anxiety
Individuals with high social anxiety avoid entering social situations that constantly create anxiety or try to endure these situations with increased distress. Some people intensely avoid almost all social situations such as going to social gatherings, not giving presentations, not speaking in public while others exhibit subtle avoidance behaviors such as looking at anyone at social gatherings, not being eye-catching, and over-preparing for presentations.
We all have a need to be liked, approved, and valued and to be part of the society. It is normal to fear to be isolated from social groups. As a result, we act within the framework of certain social rules and expectations in our relationships with each other. This type of anxiety is normal and functional. However, social anxiety becomes a psychological problem when it exceeds the limit and begins to create problems in an individual’s work, school, family, and social life.
Social anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects a significant number of individuals worldwide. The condition typically emerges during adolescence but can persist into adulthood if left untreated. It's important to note that social anxiety exists on a spectrum, and many people may experience milder forms of social anxiety that do not meet the criteria for a
diagnosis. The impact of social anxiety can range from mild discomfort in social situations to more severe impairment in daily functioning.
Recognizing the Long-Term Effects
Social anxiety might interfere with essential daily tasks such as;
- Making phone calls
- Speaking in front of an audience
- Working in the presence of others
- Talking face to face with people you don't know or don't know very well
- Making a presentation
- Meeting new people
- Business meetings
- Eating and drinking in public
- Using public toilets
- Sitting opposite each other in public transport
- Having eye contact
Social anxiety can have pervasive and detrimental effects on various aspects of an individual's personal and professional life. Left unchecked, it may lead to isolation, strained relationships, and missed opportunities. As a result of avoiding feared social situations, individuals might also experience low self-esteem thinking that they don’t have the social skills they need or not suitable to succeed in career. It can create a self-perpetuating cycle of negative self-perception, hindering both personal and professional growth. By taking proactive steps such as seeking counselling, practicing self-care, and facing feared social situations, individuals can manage social anxiety and prevent its negative consequences.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Social Anxiety
International clinical practice guidelines suggest Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies (CBT) as the first line of treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. There is evidence that CBT protocols are effective in helping with the social anxiety disorder.
The main purpose of cognitive and behavioral approaches for social anxiety disorder is to weaken the link between social situations and anxiety. The treatment intervenes in the individual’s thoughts and avoidance behaviors that maintain high levels of anxiety. It provides a learning opportunity about anxiety by exposing individuals into new social experiences. The more the individual is exposed to the situations which were avoided due to fear previously, the more an opportunity provided to reduce anxiety and unlearn the anxiety response.
Self-Help Strategies for Managing Social Anxiety
- Mindfulness: It helps individuals to focus on present-moment awareness and observe their thoughts without judgment. One such activity is deep breathing exercises, where individuals focus on their breath, inhaling deeply through the nose quickly, holding the breath and exhaling slowly through the mouth. This simple yet powerful practice helps to anchor attention to the present moment, promoting a sense of calm and reducing the grip of anxious thoughts. Additionally, engaging in mindful walking, where attention is directed to the sensations of each step, can further ground individuals in the present and alleviate anxiety. Similarly, body scan meditation involves systematically focusing on different parts of the body, noticing any tension or discomfort, and consciously releasing it, promoting relaxation, and reducing overall anxiety levels. Regular meditation practices can help individuals recognize and manage anxious thoughts more effectively.
- Journaling: Journaling serves as a valuable tool in mitigating social anxiety, particularly for individuals prone to overthinking. By providing a platform to document thoughts and emotions, journaling enables individuals to examine their inner dialogue in an unbiased manner. This process fosters greater self-awareness and perspective, empowering individuals to challenge and reframe negative thought patterns associated with social anxiety.
- Exercise: Physical activity reduces stress and releases endorphins, enhancing mood and overall well-being. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and pilates can help to reduce anxiety levels.
- Exposure to social situations: If you struggle with mild levels of anxiety, it might be useful to try facing feared situations starting from the least feared one. However, it is best to seek professional support if you find this idea daunting or your anxiety gets worse even after trying this.
Cultivating a Fulfilling Life
High levels of social anxiety might interfere with some or many aspects of your life, reducing your self-esteem, and limiting your actions due to avoidance of feared social situations. Social anxiety might be reducing your job performance and limiting your career options. Even when you push yourself at work to give presentations or participate to team meetings, you might be experiencing high levels of anxiety or might not be feeling like yourself. Social anxiety might not be allowing you to be your genuine self in social interactions. Individuals can foster an increased sense of confidence and authenticity, which ultimately facilitates deeper and more fulfilling engagements in every aspect of their lives when the social anxiety is managed well.
The Journey to Long-Term Fulfillment
Some levels of social anxiety are expected in some social situations especially if the situation is novel for you. High levels of social anxiety which interferes with your wishes and goals can be incredibly challenging, often seeming overwhelming and constraining one's social life. However, it's important to recognize that it can be overcomed with the right support and strategies, particularly through therapy. Despite initial difficulties, there is hope for managing and even conquering social anxiety. Seeking help is a crucial step towards regaining control and finding relief from its grip.