Do you struggle with social anxiety? Social anxiety is “an irrational fear of regular, daily social interactions that culminates in avoidant behaviors that can disrupt your life”. So what does this mean? It means that if you have social anxiety, you may experience disruption in your work life, education, and daily routine, as well as your relationships with the people around you. Social anxiety can bring a great degree of fear, worry, and missed opportunities to your life on a daily basis.
While most people feel a certain degree of nervousness surrounding certain social situations, bull blown social anxiety can, unfortunately, spiral into a chronic health condition. But don’t worry! Getting ahead of your social anxiety with group therapy for anxiety can help you learn effective coping skills in order to proactively manage this condition and improve your health and wellbeing.
Social Anxiety Origins
As is the case with many other mental health disorders, it’s likely that social anxiety is the result of a complicated mix of various environmental and biological factors, which include:
- Environment: Experts speculate that there could be a link between the development of social anxiety and having parents who are controlling and overprotective, or who model anxious behavior during social situations themselves.
- Inherited traits: It is often seen that anxiety disorders are common within families. It is not yet clear, however, how much of this phenomenon is due to learned behavior (environmental factors), or genetics.
- Brain structure: The part of our brains called the amygdala might be involved in controlling our responses to fear. Because of this, people who have overactive amygdalae may have more intense responses to fears, leading to higher anxiety during social interactions.
Social Anxiety Risk Factors
There are also several risk factors that might increase the likelihood that you will develop social anxiety, such as:
- Temperament: Children who are withdrawn, restrained, shy, or timid when they come across new situations
- Having a condition or appearance that draws the attention of others: For example, having a stutter, tremors, or a physical disfigurement
- Negative past experiences: Having experienced bullying, teasing, ridicule, rejection, family conflict, abuse, or trauma
- Family history: Having biological parents or siblings who have anxiety disorders
- New work or social demands: While social anxiety related symptoms tend to start when people are teenagers, you may see an onset of symptoms later in life when you meet new people or have to speak publicly for the first time.
Signs & Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Some signs and symptoms to look out for that might be related to social anxiety include:
- Worrying that you will humiliate yourself in front of others
- Experiencing an intense fear of interacting with people you don’t know
- Analyzing your “performance” and focusing on any perceived flaws after a social interaction
- Physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, blushing, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and muscle tension
- Being afraid of the aforementioned physical symptoms themselves
- Being afraid that other people will notice that you seem anxious
- Fearing situations in which you think you may be negatively judged by others
- Expecting the worst possible consequences after a negative social interaction
- Avoiding speaking to people or doing things because you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself
- Avoiding situations in which you could end up being the center of attention
Managing Symptoms of Social Anxiety
The Mayo Clinic suggests a few ways to help curb symptoms related to social anxiety:
- Seek help early on: Make sure you seek professional help as soon as you realize you are suffering from a form of anxiety. This is because, as is the case with other mental health conditions, anxiety can become increasingly difficult to treat the longer you wait to address it.
- Avoid substance abuse: If you overuse drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or even caffeine, you may unintentionally exacerbate symptoms related to your anxiety. However, suddenly quitting any of the aforementioned substances can increase your anxiety if you are addicted to them. If you have a difficult time quitting on your own, it’s important that you discuss your problem with your doctor and find a treatment program that suits you.
- Set priorities: Taking care to effectively manage your time and energy might help reduce your anxiety. It’s important to ensure that you take the time to do things that you enjoy doing; this, in itself, can help manage your anxiety.
- Keep a journal: Using a journal to record your personal life can help both you and your mental healthcare provider figure out what, in your life, is leading to distress as well as what activities help you feel more grounded and less anxious.
If you suffer from social anxiety, you should always remember that help is available. One way to handle social anxiety is to enroll in group therapy. In a therapy group geared towards helping people with social anxiety, you will have the opportunity to share your experience with not only a therapist, but also other people who have experienced similar things.This is also a great, safe setting to practice overcoming your fear of social interaction in a controlled environment led by a mental health specialist.