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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Maire

Dealing with Social Anxiety


Person in group with anxiety

You look out into the group of people in front of you. It's a mix of people you know and complete strangers. You've been practicing what to say for the past few weeks and you've memorized the whole thing. Yet, at that moment you start to sweat. Your heart begins to race. Your mind goes blank. You can't look directly into the eyes of anyone. People aren't saying anything, they're just looking intently, but you can just  feel them judging you. You can't seem to move your mouth and it feels like you've lost your voice. You feel stuck and all that hard work seems to have just gone straight down the drain.

 

Does this feel familiar to you? Have you ever been afraid of being around complete strangers at a store or even on the bus? Even when you've wanted to be social, have you found yourself struggling with meeting new people? If so, then you might be experiencing social anxiety.

 

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is described as happening in social situations, be they large or small groups. The Cleveland Clinic defines it as "… a medical condition that causes fear and anxiety when you’re around people in social situations. People with social anxiety fear being judged or watched by others" (1). It's more than just shyness. It can affect people for long periods of time and more often than not, the person just learns to live with it. Even if a person desires to be social they could still feel super anxious and avoid the social situation altogether. Oftentimes they avoid these situations because they feel that they are being judged (2).

 

Such is the case that it can affect a person in every aspect of their lives. It can affect them in their dating life, at work, at school when answering a question, in a job interview, or even talking to someone like a cashier (2). Some people may even feel anxious being around others where there is no demand to be social, like being on a train or any other crowded area.

 

Symptoms of social anxiety

Social anxiety can present differently in each individual but there are common symptoms which include

 

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Fear that people are judging them

  • Avoiding places where there are multiple people

  • Fear of interacting with strangers

  • Blushing, sweating, trembling in social situations

  • Stiff body posture when around others

  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact

  • High anxiety in any of the above scenarios

 

If you notice these symptoms have been affecting you for the past 6 months, consider reaching out to a mental health professional as they can provide you with accurate information and treatments to help.

 


woman in class with social anxiety

Social anxiety can happen to anyone

Just as a medical condition can come about without any warning, social anxiety can affect anyone, even those who see themselves as extroverted who have never previously had issues with being social.  Although there is no consensus on what might actually cause social anxiety, we know that there are many factors that come into play. For some it might simply be how they were born, for others certain events may cause them to develop a resistance to social situations. Regardless, social anxiety is treatable and a person can still live a fulfilling life with social connections and support through the help of mental health professionals as well as a supportive, understanding social circle.

 

In their podcast episode titled, "Loneliness and Isolation", co-founders of Xenia Counseling Hailey Maire and Taylor Madsen, talk about how some people are intentionally put into isolation while others choose it because of certain circumstances that they've been through. Regardless of why, if someone is in isolation for long periods of time it can negatively affect a person because  at the end of the day, humans are social beings and need social interactions (3). It's possible people who have been bullied or even marginalized from social circles develop social anxiety as a protection. In those scenarios it’s good to validate that they are trying to obtain safety.


How to treat for social anxiety

Just like any other mental health condition, the best course of action is to seek out help from a mental health professional. It may be daunting to ask for help in the first place, but there are trained professionals that can help you. 


Therapy is meant to be individual, but there are certain treatments that could really help with social anxiety. This includes CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that focuses on reframing your thoughts/perspective in certain situations and unlearning behaviors (4, 5). Medication could also be used with therapy as a way to help ease anxiety symptoms throughout the day (4). Some therapists may even consider using exposure therapy, which focuses on gradually exposing you to certain situations that you may fear until you can handle it comfortably (6). 


Two woman comforting each other and supporting each other with social anxiety

How to help someone who has social anxiety?

If you experience for yourself, or know anyone else that may be displaying symptoms of social anxiety, first and foremost remember that it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them. Always demonstrate understanding and empathy first. Ask them to talk about it, but if they don’t feel comfortable don’t pressure them. Sometimes social anxiety is a helpful protection tactic that works until they find the healing they need in other areas of life. Let them work on that with a trained professional. 


The same goes with social situations. Don’t be afraid to try and include them in social settings, whether it be spending time with them or even inviting them out with some other friends. If they decline, or even if they say they will go but don’t show up, don’t take it personally. Demonstrate understanding and continue in inviting them to things without making them feel bad for not going or pressuring them to go. A simple and gentle invitation makes them know that you want them around. They will engage when they feel ready to. 


Don’t feel you need to be responsible to pressure them into social situations. Don’t force them to talk to complete strangers. If they are with you and they ask for help in talking to someone else, be patient and help them if you feel comfortable with communicating their needs. 


Reach out for help 

Here at Xenia Counseling, our therapists are willing to help. Reach out today to schedule an appointment. Remember that you matter and that you are capable of doing anything you put your mind to. We hope to provide whatever tools you need to process what is happening, and we love to set people up with services in other practices if we know they have a specialty that would be beneficial to the client. 


Sources


 


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