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A fair number of people live with a social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia). Experiencing feelings in social situations related to anxiousness or uneasiness at some point in our lives isn’t uncommon. However, for those with social phobia, such feelings are always a given. It brings a lot of hardship into their life and impacts various aspects of their wellbeing as well. Nevertheless, there are ways to help move past these difficulties, and this article explores some of them. If you are someone who experiences feelings of social anxiety, or you know someone who does, or you’re simply keen on acquiring such knowledge, this information can be of use to you, so read along.
Social Phobia: The Overview
Signs of Social Anxiety
Those who have this anxiety will experience several symptoms linked to feelings of anxiousness, fear, discomfort, and avoidance of social interactions.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is one of the most widely used assessment tools in the field of mental health. These include:
- Anxiety about social situations where one could be observed and scrutinized by others
- Fear of showcasing anxiety symptoms that will be judged negatively
- Constant fear or anxiety about social situations
- Avoiding social situations or experiencing intense fear or anxiety when facing them.
To be diagnosed with social phobia, this fear, anxiety, and avoidance should persist for up to 6 months. Due to it, people will experience significant distress, and it will cause hindrances to various areas of their functioning. Such feelings may also be out of proportion for the nature of the situation.
For Those With Social Anxiety, Having to Interact With Others Can Cause.
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling voice or other difficulties in speaking
- Feeling nauseous
- Increased heart rate
- Hot flashes
- Constant, intense worrying: about the social situation, how other’s will view them if they will embarrass themselves
- Worrying days or weeks before an event
- Trying to go unnoticed and hidden if they do attend
- Negligence of or absence from school life or work life due to this anxiety
Consequences of Living With the Phobia
Social phobia alters the usual course of people’s lives and gives way to numerous difficulties. To a fair extent, our lives today include interacting with others and crossing paths with new people. It’s part of living in a society. When someone faces difficulties in an area like this, it can be hard for them.
These are some of the areas that social phobia can affect:
1. Daily life – They may not be able to do their day-to-day tasks or all their educational or occupational duties.
2. Relationships – When social phobia makes it difficult to be around others, for example, out in public, at some point, it can prove difficult in some of the relationships people have. This may not always be the case for everyone with social phobia; however, for several with it, it could put a strain on the relationship.
3. Health – Living with this condition can affect various aspects of a person’s health. Firstly, in terms of physical health, the way they exercise could be restricted. For instance, places like the gym and walking paths could make induce anxiety and discomfort. Secondly, their mental and emotional health can suffer too. The less social exposure they get, the more intense their social anxiety may become. It can have an impact on their moods. Depression can develop or worsen if already present.
4. Self Esteem and Self confidence –Social phobia will also determine a person’s levels of esteem and confidence. The feelings caused as a result of the condition can tamper with how people feel about themselves as well as how they present themselves to others. Being plagued constantly by negative thoughts and worries can make people overly self-conscious. Their internal struggles can sometimes be reflected externally.
Ways to Manage Social Phobia
It’s important to address areas in our health that need looking into for the sake of our wellbeing, and social phobia is no exception. If neglected, it can lead to more consequences, one of which is becoming more rooted and thereby harder to overcome.
Many strategies and exercises exist for those with social phobia. These have to be incorporated into their lives and practised often. This is to become more familiar with them. The more accustomed we are to something, the easier it is to become comfortable and familiar with it.
Here are some ways that can help with the condition:
1. Be Aware of Your Own Social Anxiety Experiences
Everyone doesn’t experience things in the same way. When it comes to social anxiety, each person may have their own experiences with the disorder. For instance, one person might often experience a set of symptoms while someone else faces all of them; another person could be alright in some social settings that are may be difficult for others with social phobia.
Awareness is important in many situations, and this instance is no exception. Being aware of the way your social anxiety works, by knowing what triggers you and what your usual symptoms are, can be of immense help. When you’re informed of this, you can be better prepared for the future. It makes you able to manage your social phobia because you know the areas that need to be dealt with. For example, if you know that a physical symptom you usually have is rapid breathing and increased heart rate, then you can try to control your breathing and steady your heart rate so that it doesn’t worsen your anxiety.
2. Try to Take on Situations That Challenge You
Once you’re aware of the social settings that trigger you, aim to gradually tackle these. Make a list of what they are and don’t plan to avoid them, but instead face them. Like in a lot of other contexts, it’s more helpful- especially in the long run- to face what we don’t want to rather than hide from it. In the case of social anxiety, doing so could be of use. For one, pulling through being in an anxiety-inducing situation can not only make us more familiar with the experience but also make us feel proud of ourselves. This can have a positive impact on our self-esteem because, despite all the hardships, we still did it.
A helpful way to do this is by achieving it gradually. Take baby steps when going into it instead of one a giant leap. The latter can be counterproductive. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask for support from those you’re close to. Having someone accompanying you could help you as you attempt to face your fears.
Even the simple exposure of being outside around others can do you good. It’ll be normal to feel uncomfortable. However, the more used you become, the easier it gets.
3. Practice Relaxation Techniques
These are useful tools in managing social phobia. Some of the key features of anxiety are worrying and fearful thoughts plus physical sensations that make people tense and uncomfortable. Due to this, using techniques meant to make people feel calm and relaxed can help to deal with the consequences of anxiety.
Two commonly used tools are breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. They are effective in helping those with anxiety disorders.
Breathing techniques are intended to calm our breathing. Anxiety increases our breathing rate. This worsens how we feel because it can increase our heart rate as well causing chest palpitations and even make us feel dizzy or lightheaded. Calming down our breathing can alleviate these and also help us not start panicking.
There is a range of various breathing techniques, some of which require the usage of our upper limbs or to be in a sitting or lying position. Doing this around others unnoticed or without having to excuse oneself may not be possible. Therefore it may not always be feasible. There are plenty of freely available resources online that detail the various breathing techniques for anxiety and how to do them.
One of the symptoms people with social phobia have is that they don’t want others to see their anxiety symptoms because they fear negative judgment or scrutiny. Keeping this in mind, this article mentions a simple but effective breathing technique. This can be done either while sitting or standing around others without them even noticing. Just inhale slow, deep breaths through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Make sure that the shoulders are relaxed when breathing in and the stomach and chest expand slightly. Breathe out through pursed lips and with a relaxed jaw. It might not be the easiest at first, but it gets better with practice.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
As anxiety can cause our bodies to become tense, working on relaxing our muscles and relieving the tension within them is helpful. When we release the tension stored in our muscles, often without our awareness of it, our bodies start to become more relaxed and feel less pressured. It’s a two-step process and is done across various parts of the body. Firstly, tense an area of muscles in the body, such as the neck. Do this by squeezing the muscles together for around 5 seconds. Slowly breathe in a while doing this. Secondly, relax them while breathing out. Wait for around 20 seconds before moving onto the next set of muscles, for example, the shoulders.
1. Identify and Combat Your Negative Thoughts and Beliefs.
The thoughts and beliefs people have about social situations and being in them, for example, can determine their experiences. With social phobia, these thoughts and beliefs are negative. People think negatively of how others might see them and how they might be in that setting. These thoughts are mostly inaccurate as well as irrational. One reason for this is that it’s not possible to accurately predict other people’s reactions and how a situation can turn out. Unfortunately, people get carried away by their thoughts. This can either conjure fear and avoidance of social settings before the person has even attended it or influence how they experience the setting if they are in it. For instance, they might be afraid to walk on the road because they think others are judging them negatively. Or they might attend an event and believe that others don’t like or want their presence.
Whenever you find yourself having negative thoughts like this, reason them out. Look for proof. If you think you’ve found some, evaluate this proof. Is it enough to back whatever thoughts or beliefs you’re having? Additionally, reframing negative thoughts is another way to manage them. This is done by changing the nature of the thoughts we have from negative to positive. It prevents us from being affected by negative thoughts that may not even be accurate.
2. Aim to Stop Behaviours Related to Your Social Anxiety
Apart from influencing our thoughts and beliefs, social anxiety influences the way we behave as well. These behaviours restrict us from leading normal lives and can make life very hard. People can break free from the hold their anxiety has on them if they engage in the behaviours it prevents them from doing.
Some of These Are:
- Having trouble or avoiding initiating conversations with people
- Not talking much
- Hiding anxiety symptoms
- Avoiding eye contact
- Using substances to face social settings
- Staying on the sidelines
Doing the opposite of these behaviours are steps to tackle social phobia. Furthermore, when people do the opposite, they also become more used to it, and this makes it easier for them over time. In this way, their condition can improve.
Seek Professional Help
Deciding to work with a professional is never a bad idea. It can be effective when dealing with conditions such as a social phobia. Often when we need help, we may not know where to start and how to go about it based on our needs. Going for therapy can help people to address their needs and meet their goals. Therapists discuss what clients are going through and introduce tools and strategies for this. They also assist in clients’ progress in attaining their therapeutic goals and being able to initiate change to their thoughts and/or behaviours on their own.