What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety, previously known as ‘social phobia’, affects millions of people all over the world. It can affect everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life that the majority of the population take for granted.
For people with social anxiety, the fear is often of being the centre of attention, or of others noticing their anxious behaviour. This can create a fear of behaving in an embarrassing or humiliating way, which can lead to withdrawal from social situations.
You may have social anxiety if you:
- avoid or worry a lot about social activities, such as social gatherings, participating in conversations, eating with others or parties.
- have panic attacks often.
- always worry about doing something embarrassing, being the centre of attention or being criticised.
- feel like you’re being watched and judged all the time.
- worry about everyday activities, such as meeting new people, talking on the telephone, going to work/school or shopping.
- have low self-esteem or low self-confidence
- have regular symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heart.
What causes Social Anxiety?
Social anxieties are not a genetic or biological condition, so they don’t have to be a lifelong affliction as all are a learned behaviour, often formed in childhood and particularly in the teenage years.
Whether you are socially anxious, cannot speak in public or have body dysmorphic disorder, the likely culprits are:
- Being bullied by someone at school, home or work and as a result wanting to disappear from view or keep a low profile.
- Being laughed at and humiliated because of something you said or mispronounced, for example when reading out loud in class.
- Being made to feel worthless or inadequate by an abusive parent, friend or partner.
- Comparing yourself to others and punishing yourself for not being as good, clever, articulate or beautiful as them.
- Comparing your life negatively to other people’s lives on social media, overlooking the fact that these images are usually enhanced or exaggerated, and that people rarely post details of the bad things in their lives.
- Comparing your possessions to others’ and feeling like a failure if they materially appear to have more than you.
- Experiencing immense embarrassment. If you fall over as a child, you dust yourself off and get straight back up again, but as a teenager or adult, the first thing you do is look around and think, “oh no, did someone see me?”
Overcoming Social Anxiety
To overcome your social anxieties, you need to:
- Locate the origin of your belief. You can do this by writing a timeline.
- Challenge the origin of your belief: what you believed may not be true now, or was never true.
- Practice and rehearse being confident.
- Build genuine self confidence.
- Break down challenging situations into by setting yourself small goals.
- When you find yourself in challenging situations, use Grounding Techniques to help you through.
And Remember: If you suffer from social anxiety, who made you feel this way? You were not born this way. Who belittled you, laughed at you or made you feel inferior? This is the root of your issue: it’s why you feel you need to keep away from people to protect yourself from these negative emotions. However it is unfair to penalise others and deprive them of your company because of the action of one or a few. Expecting everyone to be no different to the perpetrator(s) of your social anxiety is both unfair and inaccurate.
Also, please consider that bullying is not a personal issue: it was not directed just at you. Bullies bully. They live their life treating everyone in the same way – either it’s what they have been taught at home, or it’s due to their own rockbottom self-esteem. They try to elevate their own status by attacking or reducing other people’s. Alternatively, it’s because they fear losing you as they feel you are too good for them – if they make you feel worthless, then you are more likely to feel grateful to them, and are therefore more likely to stick around. Check out our Friend Filter to help you sort out who you spend time with.
Living with Social Anxiety can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…