Have you ever felt uncomfortable in situations where you had to talk in front of a group of people? Or were you not comfortable at a gathering, especially if there were a lot of people you didn’t know? Maybe sometimes you just have the feeling that others are judging you or that you will be somehow embarrassed in front of other people. If you are familiar with this feeling, what you have actually experienced is social anxiety or social phobia. This is unfortunately one of the most common psychological difficulties.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a mental disorder characterized by extremely pronounced and prolonged fear of social situations. Although we can all experience anxiety and fear in social situations to some extent, here we mean fear that is so pronounced that it almost completely prevents an individual from functioning in social situations, such as public appearances or socializing with larger groups of people. The presence of this disorder negatively affects an individual’s ability to work, go to school, and develop close relationships with other people. This disorder is often seen as extremely pronounced shyness, and because of that it often goes unnoticed, and the person who struggling with it often does not receive adequate support from their environment, nor the professional help they need. People often think that this disorder is only part of their personality and not something they need help with. This disorder mainly develops in puberty, and the reasons for its occurrence are numerous, and often interact. People suffering from this disorder:
- They are afraid that others will judge them in social situations.
- They have a fear of being the center of attention.
- They are afraid of accidentally insulting someone.
- They have a fear of being embarrassed in public or being humiliated in public.
Social anxiety has many triggers, and some of the most common are:
- Starting a conversation
- Going to school or work
- Eating and drinking in front of other people
- Going to parties and similar gatherings
- Use of public toilets
- Entering rooms with other people in them
- Looking other people in the eye
- Going out on dates
- Speaking in front of an audience
- Talking to strangers
How to recognize social anxiety?
If we notice that as some of these behaviors, or even all of them, are present in our everyday life, there is a possibility we suffer from social anxiety:
- We have panic attacks in which we are overwhelmed by anxiety and fear.
- We often feel like we are sick, we start sweating and shaking, and we feel our heart beating wildly.
- We are very afraid that someone will criticize us.
- We find it difficult to perform tasks when we think or know that someone else is watching us.
- We are always worried about what we are going to do or that something shameful will happen to us.
- We tend to avoid most social activities.
- We worry about activities that are seemingly simple and normal, such as starting a conversation or meeting new people.
- We often feel like we have trouble speaking.
- We have a need to consume alcohol or other substances before we find ourselves in social situations
- We need the support of someone extremely close whenever we know we will find ourselves in a situation where we are surrounded by other people
- We have a habit of always being on the sidelines and avoid engaging in conversation in groups of people.
If we suffer from social anxiety in the situations, we have described above we are likely to feel:
- Stomach problems that occur for no particular reason
- Feeling as if we are not present in our own body
- Breathing problems, a feeling of suffocation and inability to catch your breath
- Muscle tension
- Accelerated heartbeat or a feeling of tightness in the chest
- Inability to speak and dry mouth
- Redness in the face
- Increased sweating and “heat waves”
This disorder can develop quite early, so it is important to know how to recognize it in children so that we can help them as soon as possible. Children suffering from social anxiety:
- Are quite dependent on their parents or another person caring for them
- Are reluctant to seek help with various tasks at school
- Have a fear of going to school and of participating in school activities
- Avoid interacting with adults and other children
- Often get angry at the slightest provocation
- Are more often upset or crying, compared to other children
How can social anxiety affect our lives?
Simply put, social anxiety prevents us from living life to the fullest. It forces us to isolate ourselves from others, which can affect the development of a number of other problems. Some of the long-term consequences of social anxiety are:
- Poorly developed social skills
- Exceptional sensitivity to criticism, whether constructive or not
- Predisposition to depressive moods or even the development of depressive disorders
- Preoccupation with negative thoughts
- Low self-esteem
- The development of addiction to drugs or alcohol
As we have already said, social anxiety is present in a surprisingly large number of people. That is why it is extremely important to know how to recognize it in time. Well, the news is that this disorder can be treated. We can try dealing with it on our own, in the comfort of our home, or we even can seek professional help.
Higuera, V. (2018, September 3). Social anxiety disorder: Causes, symptoms & diagnosis. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/social-phobia.
NHS. (n.d.). Nhs choices. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/social-anxiety/.
Smith, M., Shubin, J., Segal, J. (2021, July 30). Social anxiety disorder. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder.htm.
WebMD. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder: When it happens & what it feels like. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-social-anxiety-disorder.
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