What is social anxiety?
Anxiety has become a prominent topic in today’s world. Social anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that involves a fear of social situations where an individual could experience embarrassment or scrutiny from others.* Social anxiety can occur when an individual is engaging in social interactions, being observed, performing, etc. Some individuals may fear displaying symptoms of social anxiety such as blushing, trembling, stumbling over words, and experiencing judgment as a result. Experiencing some social anxiety can be normal given the changes in socialization since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if social anxiety is distressing enough to negatively impact your career, relationships, family, etc., you may be dealing with social anxiety disorder.**
What are the causes of social anxiety?
Social anxiety can be difficult to pinpoint to one exact cause. There can be a variety of factors that trigger or make individuals more susceptible to experiencing social anxiety, or developing social anxiety disorder. A common contributor that people experience present day is socialization related changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social anxiety can arise out of a childhood history of shyness or specific stressful event/humiliating experience. Examples can include bullying, undesirable performance experiences, etc. Social anxiety can also develop over time due to a gradual accumulation of life experiences. Onset during adulthood can be attributed to a stressful event or sudden lifestyle changes such as marrying into a different social class, being promoted at work, divorce, or dating again after a period of not doing so. While there may be a variety of contributors to the development of social anxiety, managing symptoms is what’s most important.***
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
You may wonder what the actual symptoms of social anxiety are and how they present. Symptoms of social anxiety can be psychological or physical. Symptoms may also differ in severity or presentation based on the situation or setting. Some situations/environments may elicit more or less severe symptoms, or different symptoms all together. Some common symptoms of anxiety include:
Feeling nervous or fearful
Avoidance of social situations
Avoiding eye contact
Nausea or digestive issues
Tips to help manage social anxiety
When experiencing anxiety, our body goes into fight or flight mode. This means the body is releasing stress hormones. Our bodies respond by changing the functioning of bodily systems. This can be seen in an increased heart rate, immune response changes, and digestive changes. The body does what it can to conserve energy to use towards possible threats. However, experiencing stress responses long-term can lead to physical health concerns. It is important to learn how to manage social anxiety for your mental and physical health.****
1. Plan out small steps to practice gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking social situations. Some individuals with social anxiety feel that they must either turn down an invitation or be present for the entirety of the event. If attending social gatherings is something that is anxiety provoking for you, breaking that up into steps could look like: Step 1: accepting an invitation, step 2: plan an amount of time that you will stay, step 3: follow through on time limit, step 4: increase the amount of time spent at next invitation gradually.
2. Engage in breathing exercises when overwhelmed. There are lots of different guided breathing exercises available online. Next time you find yourself overwhelmed in social situations try to excuse yourself and follow a breathing exercise. One of our clinicians Betsy Ezell, often recommends the app “Breathwrk: Breathing Exercises”.
3. Try progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Muscle tension is the body’s natural response to anxiety provoking situations. Following a PMR a guided video online can help block a stress response.
4. Use a grounding exercise like identifying what you can see, smell, hear, feel, and taste in the moment.
5. Practice thought stopping and replacing with more helpful thoughts when overthinking.
6. If you're still struggling with managing social anxiety search for a counselor that you feel might be a good fit for you.
Signs you should seek help for your social anxiety
A good rule of thumb for determining if it is necessary to seek professional help is if the issue is causing you clinically significant distress. In short this means that if one or more areas or your life (family, career, relationships, etc.) are impacted enough to cause distress in your life or the people around you it is clinically significant. With social anxiety a good measure might be if you are experiencing enough distress in social situations to start avoiding them. Individuals with social anxiety disorder almost always experience social anxiety in social situations, although the degree of distress experienced may vary based on situations. Social anxiety disorder can significantly impact the quality of life and health. If you find yourself avoiding social interactions to the point where you feel isolated, unable to take care of responsibilities,or strained relationships, it may be a good time to find a professional to help. There are a number of interventions that professionals can help you decide on such as counseling, medication, neurofeedback etc.
Experiencing social anxiety in all or most social situations
Avoiding situations, environments, or people due to distress even if you desire to be social
Experiencing loneliness or isolation
Inability to manage your responsibilities or complete necessary tasks
Strain in relationships in any area of life
Reduced satisfaction with one or more area of life due to social anxiety
If you or someone you know is looking for professional help with social anxiety, please give us a call at 214-363-2345 to get more information and schedule an appointment.
***- “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - the DSM-5.” The DSM5, https://www.thedsm5.com/the-dsm-5/.