What is Social Anxiety
There are many times in a person’s life where they may get anxious or experience social anxiety. Perhaps the anxious feelings are related to an important presentation you’re set to give, or meeting your significant other’s parents. Anxiety in these situations is a symptom of human nature, and in these cases, may even propel us to do our very best work, or be on our best behavior. However, for some, heightened anxiety is a constant in their life, and their anxiety in the situations depicted above would be almost impossible to bear.
Social anxiety is a constant struggle for these adults, one that can significantly impact their life, and they most likely have developed a few chief ways to cope with the unbearable anxiety of being in public, namely remaining at home and avoiding the situation altogether.
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that affects 7.1% of the population on any given year.
Potential Causes and Risk Factors
There are potential causes and risk factors that lead to social anxiety. These can include:
- Much like with other mental health conditions, anxiety disorders can run in families. However, there is considerable evidence that learned behavior also plays a role regarding developing this type of anxiety. It is clear although that family history does increase your risk of developing social anxiety.
- Structure of Your Brain. A common reason for anxiety disorders is an overactive amygdala. This is the part of the brain that controls the fear response. Whether after a traumatic incident, or in lieu of one, this appears to be the cause of hypervigilance that may lead to increased anxiety.
- Learned Behavior. One’s environment can also have a huge impact on developing social anxiety. Perhaps there was an incident that was particularly stressful or embarrassing that triggered this condition, or perhaps due to parental modeling, this disposition is passed along.
- An example of this is a mother who, in her teen years experienced sexual assault, and in response developed views about the world that kept her at home except for the bare minimum. Now that she has a teen of her own, she has passed along her view that “the world is a dangerous place and people cannot be trusted”, and limits socializing opportunities for her daughter. Without opportunities to learn how to trust, the daughter is at risk for developing a similar social anxiety.
- Having a normally shy temperament, this can also increase your chances of developing social anxiety.
- New occupational, social, and familial demands can also cause social anxiety to develop.
- For those who have an impairment or disfigurement that attracts attention, such as tremors or scarring, self-consciousness related to these physical features can trigger social anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety
With social anxiety, you will notice a wide array of symptoms that are physical, emotional, and behavioral. Some of these symptoms include:
- Fearing situations where others may judge you
- Always expecting the worst possible outcome in social situations
- Getting extremely anxious in anticipation of an event
- Obsessively worrying about embarrassing yourself
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Avoiding social situations
There are some things to know about the symptoms of social anxiety. For one thing, everyone’s anxiety symptoms are unique to that person and can change over time. They often flare up when you are feeling stressed, and your first response may be to want to flee or shut down. It may be tempting to try to avoid your triggers, but this is a short-term solution. This often serves only to hurt you in the long term, and the progression of the anxiety may lead to a severe case of agoraphobia, or “fear of the marketplace”. Every time you choose to handle the stressful situation by avoiding it, you are missing out on an opportunity to have a corrective experience.
What You Can Do About Social Anxiety
While adults who struggle with social anxiety may feel like it’s hopeless, there are several different things that you can do that will help ease your anxiety. The goal isn’t to necessarily to find a “cure”, as anxiety will most likely still be a part of your life, but rather to make it so that you can easily function on a daily basis.
As soon as you think that you might suffer from social anxiety, you should seek resources and trained professional help. The sooner you confront the problem, the better off you will be since symptoms will likely worsen without treatment. Trained professionals can teach you tools to cope with your social anxiety as well as offering someone who will listen without judgement. Some people with anxiety may feel that others will judge them as being weak, which is why they try to hide it, and why engaging in a therapeutic relationship can be so healing.
Your therapist will also likely encourage you to engage in your community in whatever small way as a means for building tolerance for sitting with uncomfortable emotions. Take the next step, however small, and prove to yourself that you are capable. Make eye contact and smile at the woman at the register. Instead of going through the drive-thru, challenge yourself to go inside and complete your order.
Find Something That You Love
Sometimes you just need to get your mind off of what is making you anxious. Find something you love and do that when you are feeling anxious. For instance, you may find that painting your nails, filling in a color-by-number, or completing a puzzle is the perfect way to help ease your anxiety since you are focused on what you are doing. Enjoying an activity that requires a great deal of focus can take your mind off of what’s making you anxious and help you to clear your mind.
Exercise appears to be the go-to for a lot of physical and emotional health issues. The reason for this is because it does a great job to help ease anxiety. You can go for a run and take in nature, freeing your mind from whatever is stressing you out. The hormones released during exercise can help you to feel happier as well.
Avoid ‘Easy’ Distractions
There are some people that try drinking or taking drugs as a way to cope with their anxiety. This can lead to issues like addiction and could even potentially make your anxiety worse in the long run. Just as dangerous to social anxiety could be turning to emotional eating, watching endless hours of television, or replacing human connection with a technological one. The key to overcoming anxiety is in learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, not becoming absorbed in endless distractions.
Connecting with other people who struggle with anxiety can be incredibly helpful to you. One reason for this is to feel not alone in your struggles, and connect with others who know the same pain. Another benefit to support groups is that you can find new coping mechanisms to help with your social anxiety that may not have been considered before.
Anxiety can negatively impact your life, and very clearly can begin even to run your life. You don’t have to suffer in silence, and it is important that you seek support as soon as possible. There are treatment options that you can consider including medications, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, and more holistic approaches. You may even find that combining a few of these treatment approaches will offer you the most support. By working with a therapist, you can decide on the best approach for your specific needs.
Social anxiety can prevent you from doing a lot of things that you may enjoy, but proper treatment and coping mechanisms can help you manage this condition, and return you to the life you wanted for yourself. If you don’t know where to start, call us at 949-629-3730, use the chat feature on our website, or send us an email at email@example.com. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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