What is Social Anxiety?
With our busy lifestyles, anxiety is very prevalent in our current culture. Social anxiety is the 3rd most prevalent mental health problem right now worldwide. Research says that 7% of the world population suffers from social anxiety.
If you ever feel uncomfortable about going out or going somewhere new, or you start feeling anxious and insecure about meeting new people, that could be classified as social anxiety. If you are experiencing stress, even with just going to work every morning, this can also be social anxiety. Primarily, social anxiety affects people when they have to attend social situations where there will be interactions.
The Biggest Challenge of Social Anxiety Sufferers
The last article I wrote primarily discusses anxiety and physiological manifestation. Social anxiety is much more specific to social interactions. The biggest challenge in social anxiety is that those people who suffer from social anxiety truly want to connect with other individuals. These people desperately want to connect with others, but they're so consumed by what could happen during their interactions with other people that it holds them back. It stops them from participating. Often, people with social anxiety worry about saying something wrong. They worry that they might be made fun of and they worry about negative feedback or criticism. They are highly absorbed with the reaction that other people are going to have towards them. As a result, people with social anxiety are constantly analyzing the situations around them, avoiding social settings. Their common thoughts are:
“Am I going to have to interact with other people?”
“What should I say next?”
Those that suffer from social anxiety also tend to isolate themselves. This fear and anxiety is constant internal criticism and analysis of their every behavior. They worry about how uncomfortable they might feel in a social situation. They do not want to offend other people and are highly focused on how other people are going to react to their presence and to what they say.
This is extremely challenging because when suffering from social anxiety, the longing for connection is still present. The desire to spend time with other people is there, but anxiety prevents individuals from enjoying those opportunities and experiences. It is common to become so consumed with negative thoughts, that it's actually difficult to really engage in a conversation. This is especially difficult, as often people who have social anxiety are perceived to be shy or rude. This is not the case at all.
Ways to Treat Anxiety
1.) Educate yourself – This is one of the biggest things that you can do for yourself, to really gain some better understanding of anxiety. Understand how anxiety works and know the reactions it causes in your body so you can begin to actually understand what's happening. Knowledge is power.
2.) Be compassionate towards yourself – One of the hardest parts about having anxiety is that we are so hard on ourselves. Give yourself a break and start making progress at your own pace, one day at a time… one interaction at a time.
3.) Begin to challenge your thoughts – Often anxiety is created in our mind and the anticipation itself is far worse than the reality. We create our own anxiety. So we need to evaluate our thinking. One of the treatments that are primarily used to treat social anxiety is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This style of therapy is focused on analyzing your way of thinking. It is also very important for people with anxiety to develop the practice of ‘noticing'. This involves noticing what you are thinking.
When you start to struggle, you can ask yourself these questions:
- What is the evidence that supports these negative thoughts?
- What is the evidence that does not support these negative thoughts?
- What would I say to my best friend or child if he/she was having these negative thoughts?
More often than not, you will have more evidence that does not support those negative thoughts. But because we are more prone to our fight, flight, or freeze response than anything else, we need to become very aware of when those defensive thoughts are coming up.
Shyloe Fayad is Okanagan-based and the CEO & Founder of Happiness Habits and Radical Wondering Collective. In this article, she delves into social anxiety, the challenges associated with social anxiety, and the ways to treat anxiety. This is the 2nd article in a series of 3.