What is Social Anxiety? What Does it Look Like

What is Social Anxiety? What Does it Look Like

Better Life

It’s normal to feel nervous in certain social situations. 

For example, most people will experience a little bit of anxiety when giving a presentation, networking at conferences, going on a date or interview, and attending a wedding when they don’t know anyone. 

But when someone is struggling with social anxiety, they often feel anxious in everyday interactions.

Social contact that other people would consider “normal” like going out with friends, talking to work colleagues, making a phone call, going to the gym, or seeing family – for people with social anxiety can result in heightened anxiety levels. To manage their symptoms, they often avoid these day-to-day activities and regularly cancel plans. 

Social anxiety is a common mental health issue in the world today, and social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is the second most diagnosed anxiety disorder in the United States, affecting approximately 15 million American adults.

I struggled with chronic anxiety for nearly two decades, and social anxiety stopped me from living my life! My anxiety started at the age of nine as a result of war trauma in former Yugoslavia, and when we escaped to Britain two years later, social anxiety became a big problem that affected every aspect of my life.

This problem also progressed and worsened over the years.

Each time I was invited to anything, no matter how small or big of an event, or how informal or formal, I would start hyperventilating at the thought of attending. It didn’t matter “who, when or what, “my main concern was that I would have to leave my comfort zone. 

Although I tried to explain this feeling to others, I never managed to do it in a way that they could understand. 

To most people that have not experienced anxiety, my anxious reactions seemed over the top, and they often responded with statements such 

you can’t shut yourself out

it will be good for you to get out a bit

we haven’t seen you in ages

it will only be a few of us

…which used to make my anxiety even worse.

Why did their attempt to help me result in worse anxiety?

Because…

Like most anxiety sufferers, I wanted to “not worry,” “have fun” and “go out,” but I knew I couldn’t, and so these phrases would just trigger guilt and, in turn, more anxiety.

Eventually, I reached a point where my anxiety became unbearable, and I could not go on any longer.

At the time, I was in my early 20s and had only just begun my professional career in investment banking in London. But I’d reached my limit, and I felt I could not go on any longer. My anxiety debilitated me, and I didn’t want to leave my apartment to go to work, see friends and family, or do anything with anyone. 

This was the point where I decided I had to do something about my anxiety if I was to continue living my life. It wasn’t easy at first because I was also struggling with low energy, fatigue, weakness, depression, chronic stress, sleep problems, and more.

But with time, persistence, and effort, I managed to change my lifestyle and mindset, which helped me to overcome chronic anxiety altogether.

Today I help people around the world to reduce and manage their anxiety symptoms, and in this article, I am going to explain a little bit more what is social anxiety and what strategies you can use to cope with your symptoms. 

What is Social Anxiety?

Feeling shy or uncomfortable aren’t necessarily signs of social anxiety disorder. 

Our abilities to interact in social situations vary depending on personality traits and life experiences. Some people are naturally shyer and more reserved than others.

According to Mayo Clinic: In social anxiety disorder, everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, fear, self-consciousness, and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged by others. [The] fear and anxiety can lead to avoidance that can disrupt your life. Severe stress can affect your daily routine, work, school, or other activities.

So, social anxiety disorder is a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations that can be difficult to handle and affect all areas of your life.

If you have a social anxiety disorder, you might avoid all social contact because even the simplest things like saying hello or making eye contact can make you very uncomfortable. 

Sign and Symptoms of Social Anxiety

The main signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include persistent,

  • Fear and anxiety when interacting with others 
  • Worrying about everyday activities 
  • Expecting the worst outcome 
  • Avoiding social situations and regularly canceling plans 
  • Overthinking how you will behave in social situations and how others will perceive you  
  • Criticizing yourself after social interactions
  • Worrying what people think of you 
  • Fear of speaking in public 

You can also experience physical symptoms such as 

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trembling, Sweating, and/or blushing
  • Stomach problems
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension 

Common Social Anxiety Scenarios 

Each person suffering from a social anxiety disorder is going to experience it in their own way, but there are some common situations that many will have trouble with:

  • Going to work, college or school
  • Getting on public transport 
  • Participating in meetings 
  • Making eye contact
  • Using public toilets
  • Initiating conversations
  • Entering rooms
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Going to parties
  • Talking to strangers
  • Public speaking
  • Going on dates

How to Manage Social Anxiety?

In my experience, the most effective techniques for managing social anxiety include : 

1. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is essential for physical and mental health.

Changing your lifestyle, including adopting healthy eating, regular exercise, and relaxation techniques, can help you reduce your social anxiety symptoms.

  • Studies show that people with anxiety disorders are likely to be deficient in certain essential nutrients, and so eating a healthy and balanced diet is the first step to managing your social anxiety.
  • Exercise is one of the quickest ways to relieve anxiety. But also, regular physical activity can help you change your brain structure in a way to help you manage your social anxiety long term. I’ve found that it’s best to start with walking and/or home workout videos while trying to get your social anxiety under control. 
  • As little as 15 minutes of daily meditation can help you retrain your mind to stay present, in turn, shifting you away from social worries.

2. Change Your Mindset

When you are struggling with social anxiety, your mind is often overwhelmed with negative thoughts.

Journaling and repeating positive affirmations are highly effective techniques for working on your thought patterns and mental health, in general.

Express your fears, emotions, and worries in your social anxiety journal to start to make sense of them and identify your negative thought patterns.

Then use positive affirmations to start to change these thoughts into ones that serve you better.

3. Practice Self-Love

At the heart of social anxiety is a lack of self-love. We feel anxious in social situations because we have low-confidence and low self-esteem. Tell yourself, “I love you” every day and take good care of yourself to make this believable. If you live healthily and practice positive thoughts, these are acts of self-love as well. 

Final thoughts 

Social anxiety is a common problem in the world today.

While we can all experience discomfort in new situations, social anxiety is when we experience fear and worry about social interaction every day.

Start to manage your symptoms by eating healthily, exercising, thinking positively, and practicing self-love.

Sandra Glavan
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