Written by: Jenny Smith
Most people know what it is like to feel scared before a certain event like a job interview or giving a talk, and it’s not uncommon to feel nervous when meeting new people for the first time. This level of anxiety is part and parcel of being human and being slightly out of the comfort zone.
What is social anxiety
Social anxiety is much more than just shyness or occasional nerves, it is more a case of ongoing intense fear of embarrassing yourself to the point of regularly avoiding situations that can trigger it. The main symptoms of social anxiety include an intense fear of new situations because of worries that you will be watched and judged in some way and a fear of being compared to others unfavourably. Even if you understand that these feelings are irrational and probably not true, it doesn’t necessarily stop you feeling acute nerves.
Types of social anxiety
The good news is that it is possible to overcome social anxiety. As ever, understanding the problem is an important first step to help make sense of it and overtime make different choices. The most common scenarios that trigger social anxiety are public speaking or performing in front of an audience and other situations also include making small talk, eating or drinking publicly, taking exams, making phone calls and using public bathrooms. Symptoms can be emotional, physical or behavioural and include intense worry for days, weeks or months about a particular event, blushing easily, shortness of breath, tightness across chest and drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves.
Challenging your thinking is a great self help tool. Lots of people don’t even realise that they live their lives at the mercy of their thoughts and spent much of the time being mentally buffered about between fears of the future and regrets of the past. Make a decision to notice and write down some of your common fear thoughts. They may include things like ‘I’m bound to mess that up.’ or ‘people will think I’m stupid’. Once you’ve identified these negative thoughts, ask yourself questions about them such as ‘can I be sure that that is true?’ Or ‘even if I am nervous will people definitely judge me?’ Through logically evaluating your thinking like this, either on your own or with someone that you trust you can overtime replace your thoughts with more realistic and supportive ones.
If you find this sort of approach helpful you may want to look more into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Another self help tool is to learn to work with your breath rather than letting your thoughts control it. A simple breathing technique for relaxing your mind is to breath in for three and out for five, do this several times and as you are able to lengthen your breath increase the in-breath to five and the outbreath to eight. Facing your fears and building stronger relationships, are two more areas of your life that will support you to become more confident and relaxed. Avoiding things over a long period of time makes the fear increase, so see if you can identify a small or medium fear that you can tackle. Don’t pressure yourself to go faster than you want to and at the same time keep encouraging yourself to face what you are frightened of.