What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders.
Social anxiety disorder will often occur alongside depression (19%), substance use disorder (17%), panic disorder (6%), generalised anxiety disorder (5%), and PTSD (3%).
We all have feelings of worry, fear and anxiety throughout our lives. We have all been nervous or uncomfortable in some form of social situation. These are usually normal responses to specific situations; for example, you might worry about a meeting at work, giving a presentation or talking to a large group.
But, Social Anxiety Disorder or Excessive Shyness is a lot more than that. It emulates an intense fear or dread of social or performance situations. Social anxiety disorder is also sometimes known as social phobia. It is a persistent fear of a social situation where embarrassment may occur, and the feeling of fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation.
However, when in the situation it is real – a real fear and concern that others will judge us in a negative way, usually fearing the view we have of we will ‘perform’ – pre-event processing. We can also fear what we are coming across in a negative way in a social situation, fearfully thinking about how people are seeing us in a negative way – in-event processing. Then after social situations if we apply our thought to the analysis of what just happened we can dwell on how other people saw us.
As the event has happened, we cannot do anything about is and we can only replay the anxious thoughts over and over again (how the other person saw us negatively) – post event processing. Post event processing embeds negative images of how we see ourselves in social situations (in the minds-eye of other people) and these embedded thoughts trigger pre-event process, completing a cycle.
So our social anxiety can happen before, during or after the event, with feelings of fear and danger likely to be ongoing and what makes it particularly worse is when we worry about how it will disrupt our daily lives.
A lot of people with social anxiety think it is part of who they are, and mistakenly accept that if cannot be changed. Despite the debilitating nature of Social Anxiety Disorder, it is often unrecognised and frequently under-treated with little information existing on the resource implications of the disorder. Also, given its early onset and chronic nature, the lifetime cost of an untreated individual is quite significant because of the negative impact on our productivity (Lipsitz & Schneier, 2000).
Social Anxiety makes us feel fearful that we will do or say something embarrassing and replay that scenario over and over.
To cope, some people try to avoid certain situations, which in turn can lead to low self-esteem, negative thoughts, low mood and poor social skills.
People who struggle with Social Anxiety can experience it in a variety of ways, but here are some everyday situations that people tend to have an issue with:
- Talking to strangers
- Speaking in public
- Going to parties
- Making eye contact
- Entering rooms
- Using public restrooms
- Eating in front of other people
- Going to school or work
- Starting conversations
The situations above form part of everyday life, which is what can make this disorder so debilitating if you do not seek the help you need. The physical signs of Social Anxiety that can accompany these situations can include:
- A fast heartbeat
- A shaky voice
So, what causes Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety is not always linked to one thing, and it doesn’t have to be a significant cause, as many factors can lead to an individual struggling with it, which is likely built up over time. However, it can be linked to a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. Shy youngsters are also more likely to become socially anxious adults. Sometimes, a health condition that draws attention to your appearance or voice could also trigger Social Anxiety. It’s important to note that the exact cause of it is not fundamental in understanding it or moving forwards where Social Anxiety is no longer taking over your life.
Are you struggling with Social Anxiety?
It’s time to get help when:
- You experience Anxiety before social situations, and experience fear during the event
- You often have negative beliefs about yourself when you’re in social situations
- You worry excessively about how you come across to others
- You may avoid social situations altogether
- You have unrealistic expectations of how you should behave
- You are conscious and embarrassed about your physical symptoms of anxiety such as blushing or stuttering
- You ruminate on past social occasions and analyse your behaviour
CBT is the treatment of choice for those dealing with Social Anxiety disorder, as agreed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
By changing the way you think, behave and feel, you’ll learn to identify and manage the thoughts and feelings that are causing certain behaviours.
Social Anxiety amongst individuals is likely to be higher as a result of COVID-19, whether it be excessive worrying about returning to work, or about life after lockdown, CBT therapy can improve your quality of life.