Social anxiety is the fear of being negatively evaluated by other people, which often leads to self-consciousness in social settings, feelings of inadequacy and shame. This will lead people to avoid social situations in which they might be exposed to perceived judgment from others. If you suffer from social anxiety, you might feel frustrated and dissatisfied with your relationships and wish for closer connections with others.
Like most other psychological issues, social anxiety exists on a continuum of severity of symptoms and degree to which the symptoms impact daily functioning. It is a fairly common struggle and impacts approximately 7% of the US population.
Do I have social anxiety?
If you have social anxiety, many types of social situations can trigger anxiety. You might feel anxious when you are called on to answer a question in class, when meeting new people, at parties and social gatherings, when making a phone call, going to work or at a work meeting, interacting with a store clerk, when dating, or even when eating or drinking in public.
The anxiety can be debilitating and you might ruminate and stress about an upcoming social situation for a long time in advance, anticipating a negative outcome. You may avoid situations where they think you will experience embarrassment, which can make it difficult to function in basic ways like going to work or school. Or you may be able to function fine, but it can still consume a lot of mental and emotional energy to go over and over in your mind social interactions that occurred.
Social anxiety disorder can manifest in physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, trembling, freezing, sweating, and feeling nauseous. Your mind may go blank when you have to speak or interact with others. It might be difficult to make eye contact with people or your voice might falter when speaking.
Social anxiety and your relationships
One of the most difficult things about social anxiety is the common bind that people find themselves in. You might find this to be true for yourself too. There is both the desire to have closer relationships with people, and at the same time it causes too much anxiety. It’s difficult to know what to do. Feelings of loneliness and depression are really common with social anxiety disorder.
It can feel frustrating to not be able to have access to the kind of relationships you want. I’ve talked to many people who wish they could have closer friends or a significant other, but their social anxiety seems to block them from connecting with other people. Social anxiety can stop you from reaching your full potential in relationships. Even when you are in relationship with others, your social anxiety may keep you from freely expressing yourself for fear of judgment.
What can I do if I have social anxiety?
Relationships are at the heart of social anxiety disorder. Tendencies towards social anxiety begin early in life and usually continue throughout life if left untreated. It is a difficult disorder to address without help and it takes a toll on your life. Therefore, I recommend getting help rather than trying to work on it alone in the case of social anxiety. Calling a therapist is a be a difficult first step for you if you have social anxiety disorder but it is an important step.
As frightening as it may sound, group therapy is an excellent treatment choice for social anxiety. I know, you may be thinking that it seems like jumping in the deep end to join a therapy group when you suffer from social anxiety. It may take some time building a relationship with a therapist in individual therapy to work up to trying a group. And remember, when you are in a group, you go at your own pace.
Some of the reasons why group therapy is such a good format for this issue is because it provides a consistent relational context in which to work on the deeply held social beliefs about yourself and other people. It is a place to work out beliefs about being negatively evaluated by others, having to perform in order to be accepted by others, and longings and fears of getting close to other people. It is a place to experiment with behaviors and to start to develop bonds with other people that can translate to prosocial behaviors outside of the group. It may time, but changes can be satisfying and lasting.
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