What Is Social Anxiety?
Most people have felt awkward in a social situation at one point or another. Maybe they didn’t know many people at the party or felt uncomfortable in the clothes they wore. But people with social anxiety, or social phobia, feel so uncomfortable that they avoid social interactions as much as possible.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 15 million adults in the United States live with social phobia. This number makes it the anxiety disorder with the second-highest diagnosis rate in the country. Understanding what social anxiety is can help people find the help they need to overcome this phobia.
You can overcome social anxiety.
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Symptoms of Social Anxiety
People with social anxiety feel panic and discomfort when they are in specific situations.
Social anxiety is often noticeable during events such as:
- Work meetings
- Family gatherings
When people with social phobia are put in situations where they must interact with others, they can feel many physical and mental symptoms. Each person with social anxiety is unique, so some people will have certain symptoms of the disorder but not others.
Some of the most common symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Obsessing over every small move they make
- Worrying about what others must think of them
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Excessive sweating
Because social interactions trigger these symptoms, people with social anxiety tend to avoid these situations altogether. Whenever possible, people with social phobia stay home, even when it negatively impacts their life to do so.
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Social Anxiety vs. Introversion
Many people conflate being an introvert with having social anxiety. While both types of people may seem shy, they are living in very different mental states. Introverts get emotional energy from being alone, but that doesn’t mean that being in groups of people causes intense distress.
Introverts with no mental illness can be in groups of people without fear, even though it may feel exhausting. On the other hand, people with social anxiety may be introverted or extroverted. However, they start feeling such overwhelming fear in social situations that they avoid these gatherings at all costs. This happens even if they want to participate in the events.
As with many mental illnesses, the defining feature of social anxiety is that it causes the person distress. An introvert may enjoy staying at home more often than going out. However, someone with social phobia is upset by their avoidance of social situations.
Coping with Social Anxiety
People with social phobia are not doomed to a lonely or anxious life. In fact, several strategies can help people overcome their fears and live full, healthy lives.
Self-help strategies for social anxiety include:
- Learn to assert your feelings with “I feel” statements
- Work on non-verbal communication, including posture and eye contact
- Talk to trusted loved ones about social phobia
- During moments of panic, practice deep breathing and other grounding techniques
- Expose yourself to increasingly bigger social situations
How Therapy Helps With Social Anxiety
While self-help strategies can take the edge off of social anxiety, some people need additional help overcoming their fears. Qualified and compassionate therapists can help. Through individual therapy, counselors use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help patients change their thinking patterns.
First, the patient helps the therapist understand what the current behavioral and thinking patterns are. Then, the therapist allows the patient to see how those patterns negatively affect their feelings. Together, they identify ways to change those patterns, and the patient then uses those strategies in real life.