Updated: Jan 2
Anxiety in general is our body’s response to fear that is triggered by a situation. In many situations, anxiety is completely normal and the body tends to calm down once the trigger has gone. However, with anxiety the body doesn’t return to a normal, calm and regulated state. It remains in the fight or flight mode with stress hormones pumping through the nervous system and flood the brain.
What is social anxiety?
Some shyness or nervousness in most social situations is normal. It’s typical of most people to feel nervous when they’re going to a job interview, a first date or into a social situation where they haven’t been before and might not know many people.
Comfort levels in social situations like these will naturally vary between people based on their personality traits and life experiences. Some people are just more outgoing and enjoy company and others are more reserved.
Social anxiety becomes a problem for someone when it interferes with everyday activities, relationships, work or school. Specifically, the fear experienced by someone tends to be constant and doesn’t subside, unlike typical levels of anxiety.
Signs of social anxiety
There are both physical signs and symptoms and behaviours that indicate social anxiety could be a problem.
Physical signs and symptoms include:
Increased heart rate
Shaking or trembling
Upset stomach or nausea
Avoidance is the most common 'behaviour' that is seen in people with social anxiety.
This could mean someone some or all of the following kinds of activities:
·Talking to or interacting with strangers, even at the supermarket checkout
Situations where you could be the centre of attention such as walking into a room when everyone is already seated,
Returning a meal to the kitchen at a restaurant or items to a shop.
Using a public toilet..
Events, parties, job interviews or even meetings.
Playing reruns of a conversation or interaction with someone in your mind over and over.
Identifying flaws in your interaction ("Why did I say that? I hope she doesn’t think I meant…")
Anticipate all the possible, generally negative, outcomes that might occur at the event or interaction.
Constantly worry that you did poorly in an interaction and focus on the flaws or negative aspects – often they are our perception and not fact.
Look for confirmation that what you did or said was actually okay (Well they smiled so maybe what I said was okay? She bought me another drink so maybe she did enjoy what I was talking about?)
So now for the big question....can you actually overcome social anxiety?
It's more a case of managing than curing social anxiety. Overcoming it is something that needs to be worked on with a therapist and depends on many aspects of your personality and life experiences.
There are things you can do to help manage social anxiety and still have a social life.
1. Choose events mindfully and carefully
Sometimes you might feel like you ‘should’ attend every event and accept every invitation that comes your way.
But ask yourself – do I really?
It's important to put some boundaries in place when it comes to social occasions. This will help you feel like you have control over your time and energy and are not constantly in a state of stress - you do need some down time to recover and regulate if social anxiety is part of your life.
So how do you actually do this?
Base choices on your priorities and your values. If your job and your family are at the top of your priority list then perhaps it's a good idea to focus on occasions that include those things.
2. Notice unhelpful thinking styles such as:
Remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.
Should-ing and must-ing around social obligations sets us up to believe we owe people something and we should put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, or compromise our mental and physical health for the sake of others.
“What if I say something really inappropriate and my manager thinks I’m an idiot and I embarrass her and offend everyone in the team and when I get back to work in January I’ll be fired….how will I find a job?”
Focusing on the ‘what ifs’ of a situation has the potential to send our brain into overdrive and believe that every really bad thing that we could possibly dream of is going to happen.
It’s really hard but this is where mindfulness can help. When you feel you’re moving into catastrophising territory – stop what you’re doing (unless you’re driving), take a breath and describe three things you are doing right now. For example – I am sitting on a chair, I’m in the kitchen and I’m typing on my computer. This is reality. If I were to catastrophise in this situation (and believe me, I often do) then I would be thinking: if I spend any more time doing this article the washing won’t get done, the kids won’t have clothes for school and the teacher will notice and say something to me about the clothes being un-ironed and then all the parents will notice….
By bringing it back to fact, back to reality I can rein in my overactive mind and remember that these things haven’t happened yet. They might not. They might but chances are, they won’t.
Why can’t I just…?
“Why can’t I just be like everyone else and enjoy the party?”
“Why can’t I just not be like this anymore?”
Eliminate this statement from your vocabulary right now. Practice radical acceptance of yourself. We accept that we feel how we feel about something:
Try these instead:
“I am feeling anxious about this party.”
“I am experiencing negative thoughts about going into the meeting late.”
The more we try and push away our true feelings and experiences, the more they will haunt us. Acceptance allows it to come to the surface, be acknowledged and managed. It’s like the monster in the dark – it seems big and scary, it’s going to kill us but when we turn the light on, it’s okay. It’s safe again. Of course we felt afraid when we couldn’t see what was there, that’s okay. But turning the light on regulated us. 3. Create a 'container' around the event.
A main characteristics of any type of anxiety is the fear that you will never get out of the uncomfortable situation. So try and find out as much as you can about the event before hand. How long will it go on for? Or can you give yourself a time limit? For example: "I'll go to the party early and leave after an hour."
Who's going? Is there anyone going that you feel comfortable with that you know you could at least talk to when you arrive?
Whatever you need to know in order to feel comfortable, try to find out.
If you feel like social anxiety could be a problem for you, there are practical ways to manage as you can see from the information above. At Wisemind we can help you get in touch with the reasons you might be experiencing anxiety and support you to manage it.
Book an appointment online or phone/SMS 0499 935 016.