What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is an intense fear of being watched or judged by other people, meaning you tend to avoid situations that cause the anxiety. If that underlying fear of being humiliated, judged or rejected is not treated, it can affect your friendships and social life and limit your potential in relation to your education or career.
If you have social anxiety, you might fear all social situations or find that your fear is focused on a particular event such as public speaking, eating in front of others, or using a shared bathroom.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
We’re still learning about the exact causes of social anxiety disorder. Stress, environmental factors and family history may all play a part. It’s also possible that people with social phobia misread other people’s behaviour, assuming the other person is judging them negatively when that person may not be doing that at all.
1. You avoid social situations
You might long for deep relationships and simultaneously avoid spending time with other people.
Your first preference will be to avoid situations that make you anxious. If you’re studying, the thought of presenting your work to the rest of the class may fill you with so much dread that you’d rather fail the assignment than stand up and speak. If you’re invited to join friends or colleagues at a new restaurant or a celebratory party, you’ll find some reason not to go.
You can’t always get out of social situations though. If you absolutely have to go, you may worry about it a long time in advance, endure it as best you can while feeling very anxious and unsettled, and then escape as quickly as possible.
2. You avoid eye contact
The eyes are commonly called the windows to the soul – and you hate feeling scrutinised so you avoid eye contact. It’s just too intense and personal. In people with social anxiety, eye contact can trigger those parts of the brain that warn of danger.
Eye contact does help build relationships though. You may be able to overcome eye contact anxiety when your underlying social phobia is treated.
3. People think you’re extremely shy
People often confuse social anxiety disorder with extreme shyness. They’re very different, though. Shyness is a personality trait while social phobia is a mental health condition that causes significant distress. While they don’t like being the centre of attention, shy people do not face significant and ongoing distress in every social situation.
Confusing these two things isn’t helpful. Friends, family or colleagues can unintentionally undermine the seriousness of your condition by not acknowledging the stress it causes.
4. You use alcohol to cope
If you can’t get out of a social situation, you may rely on alcohol to cope with it. This behaviour is so common that about 20% of people with social anxiety disorder also end up dealing with alcohol abuse or dependence.
Alcohol provides ‘liquid courage’ by lowering your inhibitions and increasing your confidence in social situations. You may end up believing you ‘need’ a drink before and during social situations. But that relief is short-lived. Within a few hours, anxiety, irritability and depression return with a vengeance since, in the long-run, alcohol worsens rather than relieves these symptoms. Both alcohol dependence and social anxiety are treatable though, so you can get help.
5. You assume people think badly of you
You can’t shake the feeling that everyone around you is judging you harshly. You find yourself analysing other people’s casual comments, gestures and facial expressions, always coming to the humiliating conclusion that they’re laughing at you or making a negative judgement.
6. You experience physical symptoms of anxiety
Social situations – or the dread of them – may cause you a range of unpleasant physical symptoms, such as trembling, sweating, vomiting, dizziness or rushing to the loo. You may also find it hard to concentrate or that your mind goes blank just when you most need to speak clearly.
Social Anxiety Treatment
If you think you may have social anxiety, then the first step is to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Once your social anxiety is confirmed by a doctor, you can start receiving treatment. This may involve ‘talk therapy’ from a psychologist and/or medication to reduce your anxiety levels.
How Can We Help?
At Elm Rd, you can be sure that our GPs will treat you with sympathy and sensitivity when you come to talk about your struggles with social anxiety. We will listen, examine you, and prescribe treatments to help you manage your anxiety. Please make an appointment today.