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Understanding Social Anxiety

Jonathan Riley

“I’m a lonely person at heart, I need people, but my social anxiety prevents me from being happy” – Anonymous

Do you worry a lot about what other people think, or worry that you will do something embarrassing in front of others? Social anxiety is characterised by an intense fear of social situations, particularly those that are unfamiliar or in which people believe they will be watched or evaluated by others. Social anxiety is chronic and debilitating for some people, and it can be so intense that it prevents them from doing things they enjoy.

Although some of us are more shy than others, almost everyone experiences anxiety or embarrassment in front of other people at some point. Social anxiety is different from shyness. Shyness is usually short-term and doesn’t disrupt one’s life. The fear of being scrutinised, judged, or embarrassed in public is at the root of social anxiety. In addition, people who suffer from social anxiety are frequently concerned that others will judge them negatively or that they will fall short in comparison to others. Social situations can be so frightening that the majority of people become anxious just thinking about them or go to extraordinary lengths to avoid them, causing their lives to be disrupted. Despite the fact that they are probably aware that their fears of being judged are irrational and exaggerated, they can’t help but be anxious.

The question of what causes social anxiety does not have a simple or straightforward answer. Social anxiety is most common in children around the age of 13, and it can have a negative impact on their academic performance, social relationships, and self-confidence. In addition, social anxiety can be linked to a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. A child’s shyness is perfectly normal, but those who suffer from social anxiety may find that even routine activities like playing with other children, reading in class, conversing with teachers, or taking tests cause them great anxiety. Often, children with social anxiety don’t even want to go to school.

These are the most common situations that cause distress for people who suffer from social anxiety, but there are others.

  • Talking to strangers
  • Speaking in public
  • Making eye contact
  • Entering rooms
  • Using public restrooms
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Going to school or work
  • Starting conversations
  • Very self-conscious in social situations
  • Shy and uncomfortable when being watched
  • The need to avoid eye contact
  • Meeting new people
  • Making small talk
  • Public speaking
  • Performing on stage
  • Being the centre of attention
  • Being teased or criticized
  • Talking with “important” people or authority figures
  • Going on a date
  • Speaking up in a meeting
  • Taking exams
  • Making phone calls
  • Attending parties or other social gatherings

People with social anxiety are found to have negative thoughts and beliefs related to their anxiety whereby they have their fight or flight response easily triggered in social situations. As a result, people with social anxiety are often lonely, have low self-esteem, negative thoughts, are depressed, are sensitive to criticism, and have poor social skills that do not improve. Those who suffer from social anxiety have a tendency to escape or avoid social situations. This escape or avoidance may occur when a person does not leave their home, chooses to have few or no friends, or chooses work that allows them to avoid social or performance situations.

Finally, those who suffer from both social anxiety and depression may be concerned about their future. This means that if you suffer from both social anxiety and depression, you may believe that things will never improve. You most likely believe that social anxiety is your “lot in life,” and there is nothing you can do about it. The good news is that social anxiety can be effectively treated, and people can learn to cope with their symptoms and implement strategies that work in a variety of situations.

My Practice provides affordable counselling and all profits are reinvested into the organisation to continue providing low-cost counselling and mental health services to our community. If you’re interested in scheduling a free 15-minute consultation with us, book online today.