Meeting friends and family is longed for by many people now but if you are someone who is dreading that social contact again you are not alone. You may be suffering from social anxiety.
Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that results in people avoiding crowds and social events. It used to be called social phobia.
Similarly to all anxiety issues, it is an apprehension or a fear of something.
It’s a common anxiety problem. According to NICE, a US study found 12% of the US population has social anxiety disorder.
The exact cause isn’t known and it can differ for different people. We do know that there may be a link in families and the amount of stress you are under can make a difference. Your environment can also influence how you feel.
It may also be that you are misreading other people’s body language or that you just haven’t learnt how to deal with people in different situations.
Social anxiety is made worse through negative thoughts, feelings and avoidance behaviours.
You may have physical signs that alert you that things aren’t right. For example, some people who experience social anxiety can shake, get panic attacks, blush, feel clammy, get a raised heartbeat or struggle to speak.
Emotionally people with social anxiety may have thoughts of dread when going to new places or meeting new people. They can feel very awkward with people that they don’t know. Many people feel shy. People’s minds may go blank.
They find that the easiest solution is to avoid contact with strangers. If you work in an office you might just keep your head down and get on with your work. Sitting in front of a computer screen makes things temporarily easier because you literally don’t need to face anyone.
Other anxiety situations can include:
- Going to parties or other social gatherings
- Going to new places
- Other people looking at you
- Times when you are assessed such as work observations
- Going shopping in big supermarkets with lots of people around
These negative thoughts and feelings can come and go and often are related to the amount of stress you are under.
You can also get an idea if you have a problem with social anxiety by completing the Social phobia inventory (SPIN)
Consequently, the UK lockdown has been a way of temporarily relieving social anxiety.
Stressful situations especially where you might feel judged or embarrassed can make social anxiety worse.
One example of this might be having to give a presentation at work. You might feel that everyone is staring at you. You might think that what you are saying isn’t good enough. Many people with social anxiety avoid these anxious times.
The only way you really know if you are suffering from any anxiety disorder is to go and see a doctor and get a medical diagnosis. This problem is usually diagnosed if you have been getting anxious about social situation for 6 months or longer.
Getting a check-up is a good idea because there may be other things that can make you feel anxious.
Different forms of talking therapy help. This could be counselling/psychotherapy in a one to one situation. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be particularly helpful.
Occasionally group support is offered but this means that you need to go to the group and that may not be easy for some people.
Some doctors will prescribe medication to help the anxiety. Antidepressants and beta-blockers help the anxiety and the symptoms like fast heart rate.
Learning to be assertive and other social skills are also beneficial.
Awaken the Change specialises in helping people with stress and anxiety issues.