What is Social Anxiety?
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety can be seen as a fear of social settings. People struggling with this type of anxiety will avoid placing themselves in situations involving and interacting with others. It is a long-term condition, often stemming from a fear of being judged or from feelings of low self-esteem. It can harm sufferers because it might block otherwise everyday interactions and relationships with those closest to them. Social anxiety might also get in the way of meeting new people in a work, education, or family setting. This could prevent people reaching their full potential at college or at work.
The Anxiety UK charity discusses two types of social phobia on its website. Firstly, people suffering with general social phobia are overly anxious about any social situation. They might limit their own contact with others and could have long-standing feelings of shyness. Although they want to be accepted, their shyness and might be misinterpreted as being anti-social or aloof.
Secondly, people suffering with a specific social phobia will cope without any issues in most settings, but will feel anxious when faced with certain situations. This could be infrequently when having to speak in public or talking to people in authority, but it could be in more common settings such when eating in public or making phone calls or video appointments. In both types of social anxiety, the same excessive feelings of embarrassment or potential humiliation can be debilitating. It can prevent sufferers completing otherwise normal tasks involving others.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
If you are overly anxious before, during, and even after a social situation you might be suffering from social anxiety. You might spend a lot of time thinking through all the possibilities that could be encountered, which in turn is likely to increase your feelings of anxiety. Social phobia is a long-term condition, so you might have been feeling this way for as long as you can remember.
During the event you might sweat or feel your heart rate increase, or begin blushing and find it difficult to speak. You might even worry other people are noticing you seem nervous. Because social anxiety can stem from negative feelings of being judged or criticised, such symptoms will likely worsen your own self-image. Extreme symptoms could also include a panic attack.
Afterwards, you might spend hours unpicking and analysing each moment, looking for signs that other people judged you, or that you somehow showed yourself up. It’s no surprise that people suffering from social anxiety might also be struggling with low self-esteem or depression. They might avoid situations likely to trigger these feelings, or use alcohol or drugs to try to reduce their anxiety. Social anxiety is more common amongst young people, and its intensity and symptoms can reduce with age. For others it will be a longer-term condition, however. Appropriate treatment can be sought for older and younger sufferers.
Treatment for Social Anxiety
Your GP can advise you about some of the medication that can help with social anxiety. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication might be prescribed, and your GP will also explain any potential side-effects. Always consult your doctor before starting a new course or change of medication.
Some people find that talking therapy, and especially Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), can also help alongside or instead of medication. CBT allows people to see a link between negative thoughts and behaviours and offer ways to change these relationships.
Talking therapy with a trained counsellor can also be helpful for people suffering from social anxiety. Counselling also provides an opportunity to look at the issues triggering anxiety in greater depth, often from the perspective of the individual.
Other treatments can include hypnotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and courses tackling low self-confidence. Joining a support group might be helpful too, as you will meet like-minded people who are experiencing the same issues. It’s important to allow enough time for any social phobia treatment to work. There is a dedicated NHS web page discussing social anxiety, including a self-help guide and how to access the NHS psychological therapies service.
Advice and support for all types of anxiety can be found at the Anxiety UK web site. If you want to know more about counselling for anxiety, please contact me via the details on my contact page. There is no obligation to book a session and we can discuss whether therapy is right for you.