Social Anxiety Disorder
This anxiety disorder gives people a fear of social situations
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Most people feel shy or anxious in certain social environments and this is perfectly normal, but for some people it can be a little more extreme.
Social anxiety can impact on people in different ways. Some people will find all social situations stressful while for others the fear only kicks in when they have to do something in public. This leads them to avoid situations such as public speaking, or going on nights out where they may be in social situations.
Social anxiety can have a big impact on sufferers lives as they spend their life worrying about events coming up and how they can avoid them.
When in social situations the person can experience many uncomfortable physical symptoms of anxiety. These include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- A sense of feeling constantly on edge.
- Physical stuff like headaches, butterflies in your stomach, blushing, sweaty hands, high blood pressure, dizziness, breathing heavily, feeling faint, sweating.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety you’re not alone. It is an extremely common problem.
Challenging unhelpful thoughts and reassessing your thinking
The way we think about things can have an impact on our social anxiety. Many of these thoughts are outside our control and can be negative and unhelpful. In these cases it is important to remember that our thoughts are just thoughts and are not facts.
Social anxiety is a by product of your negative thoughts, these negative thoughts change the way in which you behave. This in turn produces more negative thoughts. And so on… if you want to tackle your shyness and social anxiety you may need to examine your thinking and change your behaviour.
8 Tips for managing social anxiety
There are loads of things you can do to tackle your social anxiety. We've listed a few below.
1. Join a group of like minded people
Sometimes in a social situation you might feel afraid of meeting new people because you feel that you have nothing in common with them and won’t know what to talk about. Join a sports club or college society to meet people who have similar interests to you, which will make this a little easier.
2. Reassess your thinking
For many their social anxiety is based on the belief that they will make a fool of themselves in public. These feelings are not a reflection of what others actually think, but are more about what the person thinks of themselves.
If this is you, it can help to spend less time focusing on your physical symptoms in social settings. Remember that your anxiety is not as noticeable as you might think, and the chances are that no one will even notice it.
3. Change your behaviour
Many people with social anxiety avoid social situations that they expect to find difficult due to their anxieties. If you are going to change the way you act in social situations, then you need to confront your fears. This may feel uncomfortable at first but the more you practice the easier it will become.
Fight the urge to concentrate on your physical symptoms such as butterflies in your stomach or shortness of breath as it will only make you more anxious.
Fake it til you make it - If you act as if you are a confident person, you will eventually become more confident. It sounds strange but it really works for some people. Check out this inspirational TED talk which looks at the power of our body language.
4. Smoking, drinking or taking drugs
You may drink, smoke or take drugs more when you are in social situations to cope with your anxiety. Try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink as it will actually make your anxiety worse. Check out our factsheet on alcohol and your mental health here.
5. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
You may have been referred for psychological help such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is one of the most effective types of treatment for social anxiety, and works by helping you identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and replace them with more helpful ones.
6. Applied relaxation
Applied relaxation is usually used to treat phobias but is now being used to treat social anxiety disorder. It involves relaxing your muscles in situations that usually cause you anxiety.
7. Deep breathing
Feeling like you can't catch your breath is one of the most common of all panic symptoms. Shallow breathing means that the lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygen and lead you to feel short of breath and anxious.
This type of breathing takes a lot of practice as many of us breathe into our chest when we’re anxious instead of into our stomach. For more on deep breathing visit our factsheet here. (Link to be inserted)
8. Understanding your anxiety
Some people find that reading about anxiety can really help them understand it more. There are many books that can help. Check out the HSE’s list of recommended books here