Everyone knows to some degree what social anxiety is like because everybody feels it sometimes. However, for some people (I used to be one of them), social anxiety or shyness is the biggest problem in their lives. It makes it harder for them to express themselves, to interact with people and make friends, and to enjoy life to the fullest. If you consider social anxiety as a problem in your life, then this is the right place for you to learn about it and how to reduce its painful aspects and consequences, so that it no longer causes distress and interferes with your life.
Myths & Facts:
Myth: Reading, thinking, and learning about Social anxiety will make you even ‘more’ anxious.
Fact: If you do not know what you are dealing with, how do you manage it? Having accurate information about social anxiety can reduce confusion, fear, and shame. Social Anxiety is a common and normal experience, and it ‘can’ be managed successfully.
Signs of Social Anxiety:
- Feeling anxious during social interactions.
- Being overly and painfully self-conscious.
- Avoiding catching someone’s eye.
- Worrying for days before and after a social event.
- Excessive worry about how others will evaluate you.
- Keeping safe: in ‘safe’ places, or talking to ‘safe’ people about ‘safe’ topics.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
The causes of social anxiety are both biological and psychological factors. Social anxiety is maintained by an individual’s focus on negative things, by their thinking style and perception, and by their avoidance of feared social situations.
The Bright Side of shyness:
Although Being shy or socially anxious affects your life negatively, it still has some of the benefits that you need to appreciate. Shyness serves to curb socially unacceptable behaviors that could lead to rejection, It prevents you from dominating conversations, offending other people, or talking too much about yourself. As well, there is good evidence that shy people are great listeners, sensitive people, more empathetic and make great friends. Therefore, the goal is to reduce and manage social anxiety, not to eliminate it completely.
The Role of Anxiety:
Anxiety helps you to prepare for danger by rapid heart beat and rapid breathing, it makes sure enough blood and oxygen is being circulated to your muscles so you have the energy to run away or fight off danger. However, anxiety can become a problem when your body reacts as if there is danger when there is ‘no real’ danger.
Socially anxious people suppose that others are evaluating them negatively, and fear that they will do something in public that might be embarrassing or humiliating for them. All the time they suspect that others will think less of them if they don’t hide their weaknesses. They often hold unrealistic beliefs, for example:
- “I need to be perfect to be liked”
- “I should never make mistakes”
- “It is important for everyone to like me”
- “It’s not okay to be anxious”
They avoid difficult situations, try to keep themselves safe, worry about what might happen before the event and about what did happen afterwards, and may feel angry, depressed , or inferior. However, no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Also, it’s unrealistic to think everyone will like us – do you like everyone? Anxiety is often a private experience that others don’t notice. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will think less of you. It’s okay to be imperfect and to feel anxious. It’s part of being human. Rather than fighting these things, try working on accepting them.
It’s important to note that you’re not alone. Social Anxiety is the third largest psychological disorder in the world today. The good news is that there are strategies you can use to help manage your social fears.
4 Basic Strategies for Managing Social Anxiety:
1. Understand that you are not the center of everyone’s attention:
Shy people commonly believe that everyone around them is observing and evaluating everything they do or say. They tend to believe both that they are being judged and that the judgment is most probably negative. Therefore, it is important to understand that most people are busy focusing on themselves and their own performance, and are therefore too disinterested, busy, or self-absorbed to notice what you are doing or saying.
When you finally stop focusing obsessively on how you are being perceived, you can focus on what the other person is saying, doing, and their non-verbal cues, so that you can respond to them more appropriately.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to the Most Socially Competent People:
By comparing yourself to the most socially competent people (which shy people often do), you will inevitably feel inferior. Stop comparing yourself to the most outgoing person at a party, the speaker at a presentation, or a celebrity on television, because you can’t help but feel bad and this feeds further into your shyness. Instead, try to compare yourself to other shy people who are more like you. There is other people who are even shyer than you, given that almost half of the population struggles with shyness.
3. Use Realistic Thinking:
Socially Anxious people tend to have unrealistic, negative thoughts about themselves and about what will happen in social situations. for example:
- “No one will like me”
- “I’ll make a mistake and others will think I’m stupid”
- “I’ll get anxious and others will notice”
- “I’m going to say something stupid”
- “I won’t know what to say”
You need to convince yourself that social situations are not threatening or dangerous by telling yourself realistic coping statements, such as:
- “It’s okay to be nervous”
- “There is no evidence that I will fail”
- “This is good practice”
- “My self-esteem doesn’t depend on other people”
- “The audience will be okay if I make a mistake”
4. Focus on Your Successes:
People with social anxiety tend to analyze each social situation they are in, with an eye for their mistakes. When we look for mistakes, it is inevitable that we find them, which then ultimately confirms our worst fear.
Instead, try a new tactic. Look for what you are doing right. Before a social situation, think of what you have done well in the past. During a social situation, focus on what is going well. After the situation, focus on what worked for you. In other words, start to retrain your brain to focus on the positive aspects of the exchange.
Note: Thinking responses and the types of thoughts we have play a large role in social anxiety. While we assume that situations “make us feel” a particular emotion, there is actually a step in between. Our thoughts influence our feelings. The same situation can be perceived in different ways, leading to different emotional experiences.
Tip: Remember that it may feel worse before it gets better. Confronting your social anxiety or shyness is difficult and this is why you have likely avoided a number of social situations. When you begin to confront new social situations, at first it will feel awkward or uncomfortable, but you can’t let this stop you. After repeated practice, facing your anxiety provoking social situations will definitely get easier. The no pain, no gain idea fits for facing your social anxiety, but you need to face new social situations slowly and progressively, building on what you are already comfortable with.
- Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety www.anxietybc.com/adults/self-help-strategies-social-anxiety
- Gillian Butler (1999) Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness
- Social Anxiety/Shyness by Dr. Kim Maertz, Mental Health Center, University of Alberta
- Murray Stein and John Walker (2003) Triumph Over Shyness