Social Anxiety

What Is It?

Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder is a disruptive and irrational fear of social situations. This is permeated by worry of how people may react to us or how we might embarrass ourselves. People who battle with social anxiety feel extremely self-conscious and are afraid in social situations. Socializing with new people and speaking in public can evoke enormous anxiety. Even thinking about social situations for some can evoke anxiety.

People with social anxiety fear being judged or remarked on. This can result in acute self-consciousness and fear of doing something ‘stupid’ in front of others. For example, dinner invitations might be refused because of the fear of unintentionally shooting a few peas across the table or dropping some food on the floor. This type of situation would be ‘disastrous’ for a person with Social Anxiety.

Meeting new people can be very difficult as well as ‘speaking up’ in company. The coping mechanism is avoidance which gives the illusion of solving the problem. However, avoidance only maintains the anxiety and the problem remains.

Many people experience a degree of shyness in the company of strangers, but if the fear dominates your life, you could be suffering from social phobia.

Meeting new people can be very difficult as well as ‘speaking up’ in company. The coping mechanism is avoidance which gives the illusion of solving the problem. However, avoidance only maintains the anxiety and the problem remains.

Many people experience a degree of shyness in the company of strangers, but if the fear dominates your life, you could be suffering from social anxiety disorder.

Left untreated, Social Anxiety Disorder can take over your life. Anxieties can interfere with work, school, relationships or enjoyment of life. Social Anxiety Disorder can cause:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble being assertive
  • Negative self-talk
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Poor social skills
  • Isolation and difficult social relationships
  • Low academic and employment achievement
  • Substance abuse, such as drinking too much alcohol
  • Suicide or suicide attempts

Other types of anxiety and certain other mental health disorders, particularly major depressive disorder and substance abuse problems, often occur in parallel with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

AN INTENSE FEAR OF SITUATIONS IN WHICH YOU MAY BE JUDGED OR EVEN THAT OTHERS WILL NOTICE YOU ARE ANXIOUS.

INTENSE FEAR OF INTERACTING OR TALKING WITH STRANGERS OR OF BEING THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.

HAVING ANXIETY IN ANTICIPATION OF A FEARED ACTIVITY OR EVENT OR ENDURING A SOCIAL SITUATION WITH INTENSE FEAR OR ANXIETY.

EXPECTING THE WORST POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES FROM A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE DURING A SOCIAL SITUATION.

WORRYING ABOUT EMBARRASSING OR HUMILIATING YOURSELF AND POTENTIALLY AVOIDING DOING THINGS OR SPEAKING TO PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THIS FEAR.

SPENDING TIME AFTER A SOCIAL SITUATION ANALYSING YOUR PERFORMANCE AND IDENTIFYING FLAWS IN YOUR INTERACTIONS.

FEAR OF PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS THAT MAY CAUSE YOU EMBARRASSMENT, SUCH AS BLUSHING, SWEATING, TREMBLING, FAST HEARTBEAT, DIZZINESS, UPSET STOMACH, MUSCLE TENSION, HAVING A SHAKY VOICE OR GOING BLANK.

Personal Stories

“For me it surfaced as being afraid to go out, afraid to talk to people, can’t make friends, sit at home all day, panicking about social events, scared to ask people things, feeling like everyone’s watching me, being quiet instead of asking for things I need, not liking talking on the phone at all, overthinking everything, feeling like no one likes me, feeling insecure, not going to clubs or anything because I’m scared of having a confrontation.”

Anonymous

"Social Anxiety was running my life, I couldn’t believe how much it had taken over. I didn’t feel myself, nor was I acting like myself. I was so aware and conscious that I was acting strangely around people, but couldn’t stop it, and this only made me feel even more anxious and worse. At its worst, I couldn’t even look close family and friends in the eye and would make excuses to escape social situations to hide away on my own. But even by myself, I was unable to find any rest or peace for my mind and I felt like there would never be any real escape for me”

Anonymous

“I couldn’t understand what was going on. Everyone else seemed happy and normal – except me. I felt like I was constantly under a spotlight in social situations. I could never get away from the being judged by others happening in my own mind. It made me want to never go out, even sometimes I wanted my life to end, just so that the pain would finally go away”

Anonymous

Getting Help

GET HELP EARLY. ANXIETY, LIKE MANY OTHER MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS, CAN BE HARDER TO TREAT IF YOU WAIT, EARLY INTERVENTION WITH A COUNSELLOR CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY IS A KEY TOOL USED AROUND THE WORLD TO HELP SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER SUFFERS COPE BETTER.

KEEP A JOURNAL. KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR PERSONAL LIFE CAN HELP YOU AND YOUR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL IDENTIFY WHAT’S CAUSING YOU STRESS AND WHAT SEEMS TO HELP YOU FEEL BETTER.

PRIORITIZE ISSUES IN YOUR LIFE. YOU CAN REDUCE ANXIETY BY CAREFULLY MANAGING YOUR TIME AND ENERGY. MAKE SURE THAT YOU SPEND TIME DOING THINGS YOU ENJOY.

AVOID UNHEALTHY SUBSTANCE USE. ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE AND EVEN CAFFEINE OR NICOTINE USE CAN CAUSE OR WORSEN ANXIETY. IF YOU’RE ADDICTED TO ANY OF THESE SUBSTANCES, QUITTING CAN MAKE YOU ANXIOUS. IF YOU CAN’T QUIT ON YOUR OWN, SEE YOUR DOCTOR OR FIND A TREATMENT PROGRAM OR SUPPORT GROUP TO HELP YOU.

Getting Help

Anxiety Ireland has fully trained counsellors nationwide on standby to assist you in taking back control of these problems. For more information or to arrange a free telephone consultation with one of our team please see our get help section.

Success Stories

“I've used CBT for other issues and although I was really sceptical when I started its worked wonders. The essential philosophy is that your thoughts spark your emotions so if you can change how you think you can change your emotions and behaviour. It’s helped me take more initiative about social stuff a little at a time.“

Anonymous

“I can do public speaking now. Like, really well. Look, normal people feel a little bit nervous going up to speak publicly. That is human. I feel those jitters and then I go up there and I command attention. I felt pretty good about my last speaking assignment when it was over, but I felt even better when I saw my feedback for it the other day. The teacher gave me a perfect grade and said my presentation delivery was flawless. What?! Me? Social anxiety girl? Crazy.”

Anonymous

“I certainly haven't overcome social anxiety yet, but I have learned a lot about it and have found ways to cope with it. I mean it's really just a matter of loving who I am and realizing that there's nothing to fear - it's definitely something I'm still working on, but it's gradually getting better. And of course, I'm still trying to be comfortable with people and make friends. I'm glad that I haven't given up.”

Anonymous