The butterflies in the stomach, clammy hands and thumping heart…
We’ve all been there — be it an interview for a new job, giving a speech or going on a date. Everyone has had a time when they felt nervous. A time when they worried, “what if I’m just not good enough?” This is okay… a certain amount of anxiety is natural and healthy. According to Justin Weeks, Ph.D, “someone who is socially anxious should a) create “objective behavior goals,” or behaviors that people can actually pick up on and b) try not to focus on other people’s reactions to these behaviors.”
What if it was more than just”some few nerves” though?
What if ordering your coffee in the morning made you just as nervous as delivering a valedictorian speech to 100 people? Even after rehearsing your order three times, you were still so scared you would mess it up that you walked out of the cafe without even ordering.
What if the thought of meeting friends out for dinner made you so anxious that you felt physically sick and decided to stay home — and now they hardly ever invite you out because this happens every time?
What if instead of just “some few nerves” you were experiencing social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders and can be one of the most crippling. People who experience social anxiety disorder can become isolated, depressed, have low self-esteem and low self-confidence as a result of the disorder. Often, people think they don’t want to socialize and the difficult part is that they do want to! It’s just that right now, their anxiety is getting in the way.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety is characterized when you experience intense anxiety and fear within social or performance situations (such as meeting new people, starting a conversation or giving a speech). “It’s not a phobia of being in social situations, it’s being terrified of how people are going to perceive you,” explains Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. As we discussed, a certain level of anxiety is normal in such situations. Therefore, Social anxiety disorder is when the level of anxiety experienced is much higher than what would be expected for that situation normally. This fear persists over time. As a result, people with social anxiety disorder either avoid such situations or endure them while experiencing extremely uncomfortable anxiety symptoms.
So what are the symptoms?
Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include: trembling, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, blushing and stuttering. Whereas the psychological symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include: concern that others will notice the physical symptoms described above, excessive worry and unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “I’m not good enough,” “they’ll laugh at me,” “I’m going to make a fool of myself”), low self-esteem and excessive worry about your appearance.
What causes social anxiety disorder?
“The causes of the disorder are thought to fall into either the biological or environmental camps,” said Cheryl Carmin, a psychiatrist. As with all mental health disorders, the exact cause of social anxiety disorder is unknown. It is believed to be brought on by a number of causes rather than one specific thing. These causes can include:
- family history and modeling from parents.
- past experiences; if you have had one or a few particularly bad experiences socially, then the brain can learn that such situations are “dangerous” leading to anxiety symptoms the next time you are in a similar situation.
- temperament; naturally shy and quiet individuals can be more likely to experience social anxiety.
So what do I do if I think I am experiencing social anxiety disorder?
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t despair. You are not alone. There are lots of things you can do to manage social anxiety.
The first step is to understand what social anxiety disorder is (you’ve done that today by reading this article!)
Next, seek help from a professional through either online, telephone or in-person counseling. I know that this is likely very daunting but there are things that qualified professionals can do that are pretty hard to do by yourself. if you are after the best results, this is where to start. There are different treatments that can help with social anxiety disorder such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), mindfulness, or even prescription medications in some instances. A qualified professional will be able to find which one works best for you and guide you through the process. Please speak to your regular GP and they should be able to give you guidance on how to access a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Is there anything I can do myself?
There are three ways that you can begin to do to manage social anxiety yourself. Although, these are best done with the guidance of a professional:
1) Address the physical symptoms of social anxiety through learning relaxation and breathing exercises.
2) Confront, examine and try to see the unhelpful thoughts you experience (psychological symptoms mentioned above) in a different way so that they reflect the situation more accurately.
3) Help teach your brain that social situations don’t need to be feared by having some positive social experiences. Unfortunately, this last step involves approaching rather than avoiding what you are afraid of and this can be tricky. Due to this, it is very important that you have successfully completed the first two steps before moving on to this one.
For further information about social anxiety disorder, self-help ideas and treatment please refer to the links below: