From time to time we might feel a little nervous when entering a new situation or environment. We all want to make a good impression and desire to be liked by others. Meeting new people, attending a party or going to a work social might be a cause for pre-event jitters for some, but for others, these situations can actually be a source of true and uncontrollable anxiety.
More people than you might realize deal with social anxiety disorder, and actively seek ways to avoid the situations other people feel excited towards. The good news is that with the right treatment program, even the most severe symptoms can be managed and lessened to get you into your routine peacefully and healthily.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is more than just being introverted or shy; it is a diagnosable form of anxiety where the individual experiences “intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.” They often are worried about coming across as anxious, not wanting anyone to notice or think them awkward or uncertain.
Several criteria outlined by the American Psychological Association list the qualifying characteristics of social anxiety disorder, including:
- Persistent and significant fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment, rejection or scrutiny are possible
- Experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety when placed in a feared social situation
- Recognition that the fear is irrational or unreasonable yet unable to manage it
- Avoidance of the feared situation or enduring the situation with intense distress or anxiety
For some people, the experience of social anxiety is so intense and their symptoms so severe that their participation in daily life is interrupted, including work, school and other social obligations. In these instances, professional counseling services are needed to help restore peace and balance in one’s life.
Social anxiety disorder signs
A number of signs present themselves when one is struggling with social anxiety. These may include:
- Sweating, blushing or shaking
- Avoiding places with crowds or lots of people
- Feeling a sense of self-consciousness or fear that others are judging them
- Not making eye contact
- Speaking softly, feeling their mind go blank or avoiding conversations altogether, even though they want to participate
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea or upset stomach
Persistent symptoms may indicate social anxiety disorder, but a proper diagnosis is best done under the supervision of a trained mental health counselor who is also equipped to present healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with these symptoms.
What causes social anxiety?
There is no one cause of social anxiety disorder, but certain genetics and experienced situations can have an effect on whether or not one experiences social anxiety.
For example, children and teenagers are being diagnosed at a growing rate. When asked what could be triggering their anxiety, some report increased academic expectations, athletic involvement and overwhelming pressure to succeed.
Genetics, too, have a role to play as parts of the brain (as influenced by genetics) play an important role in one’s experience of fear and anxiety. Those whose parents also struggle with social anxiety may have an increased risk of developing social anxiety themselves.
Past experiences and even traumas also have a hand in whether or not one experiences social anxiety. Those who had an embarrassing moment as a child might experience intense symptoms when put into similar situations, or may just fear embarrassing themselves in the same way again in general.
Lastly, the victims of bullying may be at a higher risk than those who never experienced it, as bullying can leave a lasting negative impression on the victims, causing them to fear and avoid any situations where it might happen again.
Social anxiety disorder treatment
While managing social anxiety is stressful and challenging, it is not at all impossible to treat.
The first step in treating social anxiety is to seek out a mental health professional to determine if there is a social anxiety disorder, or perhaps an underlying reason triggering the lack of involvement in school, work or social situations. Your company may have an employee assistance program, your school (or child’s school) may have onsite counselors and the area in which you live is likely to have additional options, too.
Speaking with a counselor or therapist can give you numerous options you might not have even been aware of. These mental health professionals can provide coping mechanisms that not only help at the moment but can lessen symptoms of social anxiety long-term. By using methods like cognitive behavior therapy, you’ll begin to find peace and clarity as you enter back into normal routines in your life.
To get in touch with a counselor today, consider The Light Program. Contact us anytime by calling 610-644-6464 or visiting our website.