Living With Social Anxiety
Shy people can find navigating social situations difficult. Yet they find a way through and life goes on. People suffering from social anxiety, however, are on an entirely different plane. They are not suffering from mere shyness; they are suffering from a social phobia that makes social situations terrifying.
People who do not live with social anxiety tend to underestimate the severity of the disorder. The NHS defines social anxiety as "a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations." Many people who suffer from it first began developing symptoms in their teen years. Friends experiencing mere shyness found it easier to get over with age, while they continued to live with their fears well into adulthood.
Causes of Social Anxiety
Those who suffer from the disorder sometimes find themselves asking why some people have social anxiety and others do not. They want to know why their shy friends overcame their shyness with time and experience, but they cannot seem to shake the anxiety that they find so debilitating.
Medical science has not yet determined the exact causes of social anxiety disorder. There could be chemical imbalances in the brain at work. Traumatic experiences from childhood could contribute, as could certain environmental conditions. Perhaps genetics has something to do with it as well.
Despite not knowing the exact causes, science does know that social anxiety is not the same as shyness or general anxiety. It is a specific phobia relating to social situations. Most importantly, social anxiety can be overcome with a few key strategies and plenty of practice.
Living Daily Life
Daily life with social anxiety can be challenging to navigate. For many people, it is about learning to recognise their symptoms early enough to take control of the situation. One of the most common symptoms of the disorder is experiencing feelings of dread relating to activities such as conversing and meeting new people.
Other symptoms include:
- worrying about or avoiding social activities
- worrying about embarrassing oneself by blushing, sweating, etc.
- feelings of being watched or judged by other people
- fear of criticism and accompanying low self-esteem
- feelings of physical illness including feeling sick, sweating, and palpitations
- panic attacks when feelings of fear become overwhelming.
Learning to recognise symptoms at the earliest onset makes it easier for a person with social anxiety to take control of the situation before symptoms become overwhelming. But this takes practice. The key is to not give in to those feelings and the negative impacts that come with them.
Overcoming Social Anxiety
Again, social anxiety can be overcome with practice. There are a few key strategies for doing so, beginning with making the attempt to understand what is going on in your mind when you start feeling anxious. It helps to take a step back and think through your thoughts and emotions. Try to analyse how you react in certain situations and why that may be the case.
You might also consider trying to:
- focus on rational thoughts rather than wondering about all of the 'what ifs' of a given situation
- avoid dwelling on what other people might think of you, in the moment and beyond
- gradually put yourself into more social situations so you have more opportunities to practice.
It is clear that social anxiety in not mere shyness. It is so much more than that. If you are living with it, know that you are not alone. Also know that help is available. Talk to your GP or look for a local support group in your area. You can overcome this.