February 8, 2024

Social anxiety and how we can help

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is a fear of social situations that can be long-lasting. The anxiety experienced is usually distressing and have an impact on general wellbeing. Social anxiety can affect everyday activities, confidence, relationships, self-esteem and work. At one time or another, it’s natural to feel anxious or shy in a social situation, however social anxiety is more than just shyness and represents a feeling of anxiety about a social situation before, during and after the interaction or event. If you are experiencing social anxiety it’s common to feel nervous about a range of activities such as: meeting strangers, starting a conversation, talking on the phone, eating out, meeting friends, or any activity that may involve a social interaction. Often people worry they will perform in some sort of unacceptable way and fear they will be judged by others.

Actions that can help

  1. Try to limit your avoidance if you can. Whilst it can make you feel uncomfortable accepting invitations to events which you normally try and avoid, it can be helpful to try and build up your surrounding networks and maintain relationships with those close to you as these can be important sources of support.
  2. Physical activity and exercise can help to ease some of the common symptoms of anxiety.
  3. By being mindful of your diet and sleep and engaging in regular exercise, you can help to improve your overall mental wellbeing which can build resilience and resources. It’s important to look after yourself.
  4. You may find writing down your thoughts or worries about social situations, associated feelings, and how you would like things to be different (goals) helpful. Writing distressing thoughts and feelings down can help us understand them and gain some space from them. Often exposure to social situations, although anxiety provoking, can overtime help us manage anxiety more effectively as the experiences we have can shift any worries about being in a social situation.
  5. There is no one way to treat social anxiety. If self-help isn’t working, reach out for additional help or support from a friend, family member, or healthcare professional.

Symptoms

Social anxiety may include experiencing symptoms before, during and after a social interaction. People who have social anxiety will usually try to avoid social situations where possible to prevent the feeling of anxiety.

The most common symptoms caused by social anxiety include:

  • Feelings of nervousness and dread about social activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping.
  • Avoidance of social activities.
  • Worrying about doing something you think is embarrassing or unacceptable, such as blushing, sweating or appearing incompetent during a social situation.
  • Difficulty carrying out tasks whilst being observed by others.
  • A noted fear of criticism, avoiding eye contact or experiencing low self-esteem.
  • Physical symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat.
  • The presence of panic attacks.

Treatment

Whilst social anxiety can be something that improves over time, for many it persists and will require intervention. There are a number of effective treatments available including: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), guided self-help or medication. Guided-self help usually involves working through a CBT based workbook or online course with regular support from a therapist. CBT is generally considered to be the most successful, however it is sometimes necessary to try more than one treatment or to trial multiple interventions together. In addition to this there are lots of support groups available where you can increase your support networks and share experiences with others.

How to get help

To access treatment for social anxiety you could start by talking to your GP as they will be able to refer you to a specialist for further assessment. It can be difficult to start the conversation and it is important to try not to let feelings such as embarrassment or shame get in the way of getting the help you may need. Experiencing social anxiety is common and by starting a conversation with a friend, family member or healthcare professional, you will be taking the first step towards recovery and improving your wellbeing.

Social Anxiety - Five facts

  1. The lifetime prevalence of social anxiety is 13%. This means that 13% of people are likely to develop some form of social anxiety during their lifetime.
  2. Experiencing social anxiety doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t want to have social interactions; it just means the anxiety associated with social situations can get in the way of doing so.
  3. Social anxiety is considered to be one of two types of complex phobias.
  4. Social anxiety usually develops during adolescence.
  5. There are a range of effective treatments available to help improve anxiety associated with social situations.

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