Life is not perfect and neither are we. All of us have our own set of fears, doubts, and complexities. There are just so many emotions that we encounter in our day to day lives- happiness, sadness, anger, love, embarrassment, cheated, self consciousness etc. There is a part in us that wants us to be perceived in a certain way. That is where the problem begins. We constantly fear being judged, rejected or evaluated negatively by others. Their negative opinions will start to grow, gradually leading up to the feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, humiliation, depression and embarrassment. Thus, begins the feeling anxious in social situations.
Millions of people all around the world suffer from this devastating social anxiety disorder. Being socially awkward, at first, may appear to be just a personality trait but, if not recognized sooner, this can lead to depression and alcoholism. Studies show that the average age of onset for social anxiety disorder is during the teenage years, when children display extreme shyness. That doesn’t mean all shy kids suffer from the disorder. When exposed to unfamiliar situations, people are bound to be shy, apprehensive and awkward but it diminishes, as one grows familiar with the surrounding and people. It causes problem when instead of lessening, it grows further and impacts heavily on one’s choices in life.
Symptoms of social anxiety
There are certain questions that you need to ask yourself-
Do you feel conscious in parties or while having one-to-one conversation?
Do you have the tendency to avoid talking to people?
Does it bother you that other people might think badly of you in social settings?
Do you feel awkward and conscious to speak in public because that’d bring all eyes on you?
Do you worry that you might not be able to be a part of a conversation?
Do you fear that people see through and know about your anxiety?
Do you fear to speak as you think you might end up making a fool of yourself?
Unfortunately, if the answer to these few basic questions is “yes”, then you might be suffering from social anxiety disorder.
People with social anxiety disorder suffer from chronic and exaggerated tension. He/she is always anticipating disaster, overthinking and worrying excessively about money, health, work or family. High level of shyness occurs when people are subjected to certain social circumstances like speaking in public, talking to authority figures or any performance based situations. It leads to rapid heartbeat, blushing, sweating and butterflies in the stomach. It becomes difficult to relax and the worries are accompanied by physical symptoms
- Difficulty in concentrating or mind going blank
- Sleep disturbance or restlessness
- Muscle tension
- Fatigued easily
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shaking or trembling
- Urge to go to toilet
- Urge to escape
People suffering from social phobia find these symptoms to be embarrassing and as a result, they avoid social situations or having conversations. Fear of rejection makes them awkward in social circumstances and they deliberately avoid making eye contacts. Suffering from social anxiety disorder for most of the life can have an adverse impact on one’s self esteem. It cripples one’s self-consciousness. If one has been avoiding social situations for too long, they tend to become socially isolated and likely to take longer time to overcome the disorder.
What causes Social anxiety?
There are a number of factors that can result into social anxiety. One of them is genetic factor. If someone in the family is suffering from this disorder, there is a chance that it may be passed on to other family member. People having social phobia are slightly over sensitive to being negatively evaluated or rejected. Hence they also make extra effort not to offend others.
As the saying goes “A burnt child dreads the fire”, a bad experience in the past can develop fear among an individual thus causing him/her to avoid that situation again. Perhaps the feeling of embarrassment that the person must have experienced in the past has had an impact on the person’s self-esteem. As a result, he/she may worry something similar may happen again and hence it’s better to avoid it altogether. By avoiding social situations, one is shutting out the possibility of having positive experience that could help minimize the affect of past experience.
Some people have pessimistic approach to everything, especially regarding oneself. This shows their style of thinking. Anxious people tend to under-estimate and over-criticize themselves. They tend to think they will end up embarrassing themselves by performing poorly in social situations. They are scared of trying anything new as it will not only call for peoples’ attention but also make him/her the subject of scrutiny. They think they may not be able to contribute to any conversations and prefer not to participate in any. Unhelpful thoughts and analysis play a damaging role and make it more difficult to overcome this anxiety.
More focus on self
People who are socially anxious constantly look out if their face or actions give away the way they feel. They keep checking if they are sweating too much or trembling or stammering. It makes things worse. It makes them feel even more self-conscious. By focusing on themselves, they are being aloof to others, which results in not able to contribute to the conversation, which makes them conscious.
How to overcome social anxiety disorder?
Get rid of unhelpful thoughts
Our mind is very powerful. But it’s us who are the controller of our minds. So one needs to understand the negative thoughts that undermine the self-confidence are baseless and one needs to train the mind to think of positive things. In fact, one should question those baseless thoughts. Intense worry about upcoming social situations makes you feel anxious. That’s because you have programmed your mind to think that way. The solution is to slow down your thoughts and relax your mind. Learn to slow down your breathing and settle the anxiety, which will help you focus your mind. It’s important to recognize those thoughts that weigh you down and make you anxious.
- People who suffer from social phobia tend to predict what will happen and all the predictions have negative connotations. These thoughts make you anxious even before you arrive at it.
- You assume what others will think about you. You start thinking about others opinions thus lowering your esteem.
- Anxious people are over sensitive and whatever wrong happens around them, they tend to think it’s their fault.
- Because of one bad past experience, you think everything you do will end up the same way.
- Analyse yourself after every social situation and focusing on everything that you thought you must have done wrong.
- You end up tagging yourself as boring, weird etc.
The first stage is to identify the negative thought/thoughts that keep recurring. The next step should be to challenge these thoughts. One should relax one’s mind and contest each thought. When you are relaxed, you will come up with realistic and balanced view. Gradually, you can remind yourself of all the positive responses to the unhelpful thoughts. Instead of analyzing the negative points, pat your back for some positive points. In order to do so, practice what you fear the most. Eventually, you will realize maybe people don’t really notice as much as you thought they did.
The more we avoid, the more we send signals to our unconscious mind that it is not right and hence it’s better to avoid. As a result, the mind automatically generates fear every time you are in that situation. In order to get rid of avoidance, one needs to actively put oneself in the situation. Safety behavior is what anxious people use in order to escape the situation. It can be speaking too quickly or asking too many questions to keep the focus off of oneself, sitting in a corner, avoiding eye contacts, or drinking too much. These behaviours only help in short term and give a rather wrong impression on people. Instead of hiding behind these safety behaviours, it is better to confront one fear at a time. Research shows if one avoids a situation for too long, it becomes more and more daunting. It is important to repeatedly allow yourself to be involved in social circumstances, rather than avoiding it. You will see yourself handling the scenarios more effectively and witness a significant rise in confidence.
As much as people with anxiety would avoid talking to people, it is important to share. One can see a therapist or a close friend who will keep things confidential. Talking can make you realize and read how people react to your fears. It will surprise you to know everything that you assumed about people is not right. Also, therapist or a close friend will help you channel your thoughts in a positive direction. Not all social situations you get involved in can be predicted beforehand, so let things unfold gradually.
Shift your focus from self
The biggest fear of anxious people is that their anxiety is visible to people. While having conversation with people, anxious people tend to focus more on self to see if they are sweating or stammering or trembling. We tend to overestimate how visible our anxiety is and lose the track of the ongoing conversation. As a result, you end up interacting less, which then strengthens the belief that you are unable to contribute much or that you are not an interesting company. The only way to get out of this situation is to stop monitoring self. If you try and focus more on the conversation, you will be able to contribute more and people may not even notice your anxiety if at all it is visible. Just because you are focusing on yourself doesn’t mean everyone else is. You are not to be blamed for everything. If there is silence in the conversation, it is not because of you. Instead of replaying the conversation in your head to make a progress report, listen to the conversation. That way you will be actively participating in the interaction.
Life can be rough for socially anxious people, but one can definitely overcome it. Even confident people make the mistake of stammering when they don’t know something or end up feeling flustered. Avoiding is never a good choice. Confront one fear at a time and eventually you will realize some of the positive outcome of social interactions.