Social anxiety presents as excessive anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations with a central fear of being judged negatively or harshly or appearing foolish. It leads to avoidance of social or performance situations such as public speaking as well as subtle forms of hiding away in social gatherings.
Those who experience it can:
- View small mistakes as more exaggerated than they really are.
- Find blushing as painfully embarrassing.
- Feel that all eyes are on them.
- Fear public speaking, dating, or talking with persons in authority.
- Fear using public restrooms or restaurants.
- Fear of talking on the phone or writing in front of others.
- Find small talk at social occasions and parties very difficult.
- Be fearful of speaking out in a group.
- Find meeting or talking to people of the opposite sex difficult.
Even though they may understand that their fear and anxiety is excessive, they will either avoid social and performance situations are otherwise endure them with extreme anxiety and distress. Sometimes further stress comes from analysing and worrying about how social events earlier in the day may have gone.
More than one in eight people will suffer from the disorder at some point in their lives. The onset is most frequent in mid-teens, but can occur at any time. Symptoms manifest themselves physically and can include blushing, sweating and palpitations.
Causes of Social Anxiety
Low levels of self-esteem often underlie social anxiety. It can also arise where there is a family history of anxiousness or discomfort in social settings. Negative thinking and catastrophisation (fearing the worst) can compound these feeling and avoidance of social occasions and setting can make matters worse
Help with Social Anxiety
In terms of treatment and help social anxiety can be overcome. Gradual exposure or desensitisation can be helpful, for example beginning with exposure to very small groups of people. This can be supported by techniques to maintain focus on the other or others in the group. Often personal discomfort is so great that listening is difficult and therefore social and conversational cues are missed.
The support of a Counsellor or Psychotherapist can be invaluable in overcoming social anxiety. Many find CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helpful and also relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be very supportive to attain a greater sense of calm and control in stress inducing situations.
If you would like the support and help of a qualified Counsellor or Psychotherapist with a phobia or with any other issue causing emotional distress, see our Find a Therapist page.