Social anxiety was previously known as social phobia, and resembles a phobia in that the fear of something has become so strong that it feels impossible for you to approach it. As with other phobias, it is possible to eliminate the avoidance and fear through practice, but this needs to be done gradually and in a safe environment. Social anxiety means that you become anxious about subjecting yourself to social situations where you risk being overwhelmed by feelings of shame and discomfort.
How does it feel to have social anxiety?
You may have typical thoughts such as “I’m going to make a fool of myself”, “everyone will look at me” or everyone will think I’m crazy.
The anxiety may occasionally express itself physically, as trembling, heart palpitations, dryness of the mouth or blushing. It may feel as though you are going to faint or lose control.
The physical reactions are the result of your nervous system responding to a situation that you perceive as a threat. Your impulse may be that you need to get away from it as quickly as possible.
How does this affect your life?
Social situations end up being too unpleasant for you to even subject yourself to them. The mere thought of being at the centre of other people’s attention may seem unbearable.
The avoidance of social situations may lead you to become increasingly isolated. Avoiding difficult situations may feel like a relief in the short term, but it exacerbates the anxiety in the long term. The more space you give the anxiety, the less scope you finally have to live the life that you might actually like to live.
When should I seek help?
You should seek help if your anxiety about social situations is so great that it restricts your life. You should also seek help if you are self-medicating with alcohol or sedatives in order to manage ordinary situations.
What sort of help can I receive?
Treatment is available that can help alleviate social anxiety.Talking with someone can help you understand more about yourself and why you react as you do in different situations. You may also receive group therapy. You may need to take medication for awhile.
Everyone is different, and the treatment that works for one person may not work for another. You may need to test some different things to see what works for you. If you have sought care in the past but didn’t think that it worked, don’t give up. Seek help again. Research has shown that the type of therapy is not what determines whether a treatment is effective; rather, it is the trust a person develops in their therapist.