It’s normal to feel anxious when something is threatening you such as a bear is chasing you or someone is breaking into your house. Sometimes anxiety grips you at other less appropriate times; for example, in social situations. If you find yourself dreading social gatherings and activities where you’ll be around lots of people, you may have signs of social anxiety disorder.
As the name implies, social anxiety is fear and anxiety brought on by being in a social situation. Most people who have social anxiety fear being judged or ridiculed by others. Often times, social anxiety begins during childhood and carries over into adulthood. Some people with social anxiety were shy and self-conscious as kids and never quite overcame their fear of talking to people. Needless to say, signs of social anxiety can be a burden as an adult and lead to a sense of isolation.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
How do you know if you have a social anxiety disorder? In a social situation, someone with signs of social anxiety might display some of the following symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Feelings of anxiety or impending doom
- Fears of embarrassing or humiliating yourself
- Fear that people are looking at you or judging you
- Avoiding social situations for fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed
- Problems making eye contact or carrying on a conversation in a social setting
- Fear of being introduced to strangers
- Social Anxiety and Shyness Aren’t the Same
Many people with signs of social anxiety are also shy but they aren’t the same thing. Shyness doesn’t typically cause the physical symptoms and anticipatory anxiety that social anxiety does. Social anxiety is a disruptive condition often associated with extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and even symptoms of depression. In extreme cases, it can lead to a sense of isolation and even difficulty holding down a job.
What to Do if You Think You Have Social Anxiety
If you think you may have social anxiety, see your doctor. Many of the physical symptoms of social anxiety can be symptoms of a medical problem like an overactive thyroid gland. Once you’re clear from a medical standpoint, you can better address the underlying anxiety and fear of being in social situations.
Medications, like beta-blockers, are available that can help the physical symptoms of anxiety-like rapid heartbeat you get when you’re in a social situation. The goal of these medications is to help relieve your anxiety until you can learn techniques for coping with signs of social anxiety.
A therapist can help you change some of your negative thought patterns that pop into your head when you’re in a social situation. Together you can find more effective ways to cope with the anxiety you feel. Research shows cognitive therapy helps three out of four people with signs of social anxiety.
Support groups are also available where you can interact with other people who have anxiety in social situations. Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone. Group therapy where your role plays with others can help you learn techniques for feeling more confident in social situations.
A therapist can also teach you relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques you can use to relieve the physical symptoms of social anxiety. A healthy lifestyle is important too. Cut back on stimulants like caffeine and quit smoking. Both can worsen anxiety. Make sure you’re exercising daily. Exercise is a documented stress reliever. One study showed walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes daily helped with social anxiety. Mind-body exercises like yoga also help relieve stress.
The Bottom Line
There is hope and help for signs of social anxiety. You don’t have to deal with it yourself.