Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is when someone has an overwhelming fear of social situations. One of the most common mental health struggles, social anxiety is a persistent dread of being watched and judged by others.
From work presentations to meeting someone new, it’s normal to feel anxious in certain situations. While these common pangs of anxiety don’t last forever, anyone suffering with social anxiety disorder could find that it will affect their daily routine, work, school and other activities, too.
Some symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Feeling sick
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Increased heart rate
- Wanting to avoid social situations
What triggers social anxiety?
Social anxiety can be triggered by a combination of environmental factors, including family conflict, trauma, abuse, teasing, rejection, ridicule, humiliation or bullying as a young child. For example, if someone was regularly put down or belittled, they may struggle with confidence in larger social settings.
“The causes of social anxiety vary from person to person,” Rosie Weatherley, Information Content Manager at Mind, tells Country Living. “Sometimes there’s no obvious cause, but they can include a combination of life events such as loss, trauma, side effects of medication, diet and genetic factor.”
How can you overcome social anxiety?
Suffering with social anxiety can be frightening, but there are simple techniques you can try to help you feel better and get through the day. According to the NHS, some of the things you can try include:
1. Try to understand more about your anxiety. For example, you might find it helpful to write down how you feel, how you behave in social situations and what goes through your mind when you are worried. Keeping a diary will help to track your journey.
2. Try some relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises for stress. Taking a short break to get some fresh air may also help if you are feeling overwhelmed. Head outside for a walk at least once a day if you can.
3. Break down challenging situations into smaller parts and work on feeling more relaxed with each part. This could be holding an important meeting at work or attending a job interview.
4. Try to focus on what people are saying rather than just assuming the worst. It’s easy for our minds to wander, but try not to overthink things.
“There are some things you can try to address your social anxiety that may help reduce the impact it has on your life,” Rosie tells us. “Identifying things that might trigger your anxiety can also make it easier to develop ways of coping. For example, if arriving at a social occasion on your own is particularly anxiety-provoking, you could arrange to meet a friend beforehand and travel there together.”
Take good care of your health, while also ensuring you eat a well-balanced diet. Rosie advises: “There are some practical things you can do that may help too, such as staying hydrated or trying to keep active at home or outdoors. These may seem like small things but taking steps to look after your physical health can help your mental health.”
Can social anxiety be cured?
Social anxiety can be very distressing, but there are lots of ways to help you manage. If you are struggling to cope, it’s important you seek help from your local GP.
“It’s a common problem that usually starts during the teenage years. It can be very distressing and have a big impact on your life,” the NHS explain. “For some people it gets better as they get older. But for many people it does not go away on its own without treatment.”
Rosie adds: “It can be easy to discount social anxiety as just day-to-day stress but it’s not the same as being ‘a bit shy’. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like your anxiety is interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would. This might mean talking to someone you trust, for example, a family member, friend, or your GP. If you find it hard to talk, try writing things down to help you set out your thoughts more clearly.”
What happens if social anxiety is left untreated?
In severe cases, untreated social anxiety can lead to depression, isolation and other anxiety disorders. No matter how you’re feeling, it’s always best to speak to someone who can help you. You may feel as though you’re suffering alone, but help is out there.
At LCC we have a dedicated and highly skilled team ready to help you manage your anxiety.