Does an upcoming presentation fill you with dread? Do you feel extremely anxious about giving a speech at your best friend’s wedding or attending a job interview? If you answered yes to any of these, your reactions are entirely normal. It’s common to feel anxiety in certain situations.
However, if social situations like going to a party, meeting new people, interacting with strangers, or even talking with people you know feel overwhelming, you may experience social anxiety.
Social anxiety is characterized by overwhelming anxiety or self-consciousness in ordinary social situations. It is an ongoing, intense fear that people are constantly watching or judging you.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, your anxiety may be hindering you from living life to the fullest. Social anxiety can be frustrating and may cause you to question yourself or your abilities.
You may wonder why you experience social anxiety and others perhaps don’t. That’s a great question! There is no single cause for social anxiety. As humans, we are programmed from an early age to worry about rejection and care about what others think of us. Factors such as personality, temperament, past experiences, and the beliefs you hold about yourself all play a role in the development of social anxiety.
You may engage in safety behaviours to shield yourself from social anxiety. These behaviours are considered forms of avoidance. They may provide temporary relief, but continually engaging in avoidance behaviours will make your anxiety worse over time. Examples of safety behaviours include:
Each person who experiences social anxiety may have different triggers. Common social anxiety triggers include but are not limited to: answering the phone, going to places where you don’t know anyone, asking questions in a group, public speaking or performance, interacting with strangers in public, and interacting with colleagues or supervisors.
Identifying your triggers is an important first step to addressing your social anxiety. Once you are aware of how your social anxiety is triggered, do you know how to manage it? Below are a few healthy and effective ways to navigate social anxiety.
You have probably noticed physiological changes in your body when you feel social anxiety. Symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and feeling shaky, dizzy, tense, or faint can leave you very uncomfortable. Engage in deep, slow, and focused breathing to help regulate your breathing and calm uncomfortable feelings.
Planning ahead for social situations can help you feel more confident. Find out if you know anyone attending, how you will get there, what you will wear, and perhaps brush up on current events so that you can initiate or participate in conversations.
It’s great to face your fears and not shy away from social situations. However, this doesn’t mean you have to attend a big social event immediately. Start with smaller gatherings where you can get used to eating in front of others, making eye contact, and initiating small talk. Slowly build up to bigger activities as you get more comfortable. Tackling social anxiety takes time and practice. Remember to be patient and kind to yourself in these situations.
Instead of focusing inward and making assumptions about how others perceive you, focus on the environment around you. Focus on being present in the moment and being a good listener.
If you start feeling nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation, use your senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste to calm down. Using your senses will help you focus on the present. Mindfulness will also prevent you from worrying about how others perceive you or what’s going to happen.
The next time you attend a social situation that makes you uncomfortable, try using one or more of these strategies. You never know — you may surprise yourself and have a great time!
Social anxiety can inhibit your life and cause you to miss out on wonderful opportunities, experiences, and interactions. If you want to learn more about managing your social anxiety, book a free 15-minute Meet & Greet with me!