What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety refers to an overwhelming fear of social situations; this can occur either before, during or after these events. This type of anxiety is a common problem that often starts during your teenage years and can have a large impact on your life. It is normal to feel nervous in some situations, but with social anxiety, everyday interactions can cause severe self-consciousness.
Social anxiety can impact our social wellbeing by making it difficult to maintain relationships or meet new people. It may prevent individuals from doing things that they enjoy doing such as going out or meeting friends. It may also impact important things such as going to work or school, or attending appointments where you have to talk to others. Additionally, you may dread going to unfamiliar places and being around strangers.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
There are a range of reasons that may cause social anxiety. One explanation may be due to past situations. For example, if you have previously been bullied or put in an embarrassing situation, you may be worried that the same thing might happen again.
Another trigger may be psychological reasons which can cause you to think that everyone is paying close attention to you or that people are thinking negatively about you. This can lead to patterns of thinking which can cause social anxiety to spiral out of control.
A further source could be biological explanations. As humans have evolved to be social, our need for approval has increased which can result in a fear of rejection from others. Similarly, if someone in your family is socially anxious, this can make you more likely to develop it yourself.
What Keeps Social Anxiety Going?
People with social anxiety may try to avoid social situations or find the earliest opportunity to escape them. Whilst they think this is helping them, it can fuel social anxiety by stopping them from experiencing positive social events and practicing social skills that could help them gain confidence.
When in social situations, those with social anxiety may try to manage it by using ‘safety behaviours’ which can help them feel less anxious in the short-term. However, in the long term, this can make it more difficult to adapt in social situations. Examples of safety behaviours include keeping quiet during conversations, avoiding eye contact or using alcohol and drugs to increase confidence.
Another factor that drives social anxiety is increased self-focus which can cause people to concentrate intensely on how they look and feel while in a social situation. For example, worrying that you are blushing or sweating can make it difficult to concentrate or join in with social anxiety. However, in reality, those with social anxiety overestimate how much time others pay attention to them.
How to Overcome Social Anxiety
Self-help can be the first step in treating social anxiety. One self-help tip is to try and understand your anxiety. A way to do this is by thinking about or writing down in a diary your thoughts and behaviour during certain social situations. Another self-help method is practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises to reduce stress levels. Additionally, when you are in a social situation, it is important to focus on what people are saying rather than assuming they are thinking negatively of you. If social anxiety is more severe, there are a number of treatment options available. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps you to identify negative thought patterns and behaviours, and change them.
If you are suffering with social anxiety, please contact your GP. Alternatively, there are a range of support groups and charities that aim to support and provide advice to those suffering with social anxiety: