What is social anxiety? It is an excessive fear of being in social settings. It is also known as social phobia. The person believes they are being watched, judged, or criticized by others. Social events are difficult because individuals that experience social anxiety don’t feel comfortable being out among others, and feel inept regarding their social skills or lack thereof. When invited places they may turn down invitations, won’t go alone, or if they go they are in a corner by themselves and won’t try socializing with anyone. They are afraid they will be awkward, humiliated, embarrassed, or make mistakes. Both children and adults can be affected with this condition.
People often can create anxiety by thinking about the worst case scenario, which means their thoughts are irrational. They tell themselves what other people are saying about them even though it is not true and they have no evidence. This is called ‘fortune telling’ thinking. This type of thinking creates anxiety. It starts with a thought: “If I go into this meeting late, people are going to whisper about how late I am.” The feeling they have is anxiety. The behavior resulting from the feeling is often one where they don’t go into the meeting. So yes, one can talk themselves out of a social setting by a mere thought. Change the thinking and you can invariably change the feeling and the behavior.
Social anxiety, like generalized anxiety, can also come from associations. For example, in fifth grade Joe had to make a presentation in class. When he got up to speak he was so nervous that he fell on his way to the front, turned red, stuttered, and cried. Now he is age 30 and his boss comes to him and says that his co-worker is out sick and he needs him to present on Friday. Joe starts feeling sick, turns red, and begins to shake. There is a part of his mind that has associated what he has been asked to do with his fifth grade presentation.
The anxiety isn’t just in one social setting but in multiple settings and other avenues. A person could fear going out on dates, eating/drinking in front of people, interacting with a cashier at the grocery store, asking questions in class or going to an amusement park with multiple people. People also can develop depression when having anxiety disorders. They feel hopeless thinking that things will never change, that they will be this way forever. They feel stuck.
However, there is HOPE! As I stated above, the irrational thinking is what’s causing the anxiety. There is a fear that something bad is going to happen. The acronym for fear is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. They have no real evidence that people will laugh at them. One must work on changing their thinking. They also have to expose themselves to social situations. Guided imagery is a great way to accomplish this. First, picture yourself in a relaxed setting such as on a beach or by a waterfall while focusing on your breath. Next, while at home, picture yourself going to the social event relaxed and talking to people without feeling judged. Once your mind identifies there is no threat, you can enjoy yourself and have fun!
Sonya Waddell is a Licensed Professional Counselor right outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of “Single Ladies: Living Holy in a Sexy World” which can be purchased on Amazon.