Social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness…

Social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness or nervousness.  Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasions, yet Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of certain social situations—especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel you’ll be judged by others; and where are afraid that you won’t measure up or that you will be exposed as inferior.  The thought of such situations may cause you to get anxious just thinking about them and you may go to great lengths to avoid them, disrupting your life in the process.

Social anxiety is a bigger problem than you might expect.  It is estimated that up to 13% of American adults will have social anxiety that reaches clinical proportions in their lifetime…. In the UK Social Anxiety Disorder is estimated to affect between 10% and 15% of subjects in the community at some time in their lives.  It is more prevalent in women.

Research has shown that social phobias often start in adolescence and are centred around a fear of scrutiny by other people in comparatively small groups, often peer groups, and  leads to the avoidance of social situations. Sometimes, there may be specific problems such as eating in public, public speaking, or encounters with the opposite sex; or, they can involve almost all social situations outside the family circle. A fear of vomiting in public is not uncommon.

Here’s a quick test – the Mini Spin test:    Score yourself: 0 = not at all, 1 = a little bit, 2 = somewhat, 3 = very much, 4 = extremely – a score 6 or more suggests a social anxiety problem:

  1. Fear of embarrassment causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people.
  2. I avoid activities in which I am the centre of attention.
  3. Being embarrassed or looking stupid are among my worst fears.

In the UK, NICE suggest that social anxiety can be treated by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or by drugs. Physical symptoms may include: nausea and stomach complaints; sweating ;trembling and muscle tension; difficulty talking to others; immense fear of talking in public; avoiding public spaces and social situations; difficulties making friends and avoiding meeting new people; fear of being judged or watched by strangers; cancelling plans at last minute; and panic attacks

To be clear social anxiety is not the same as being introverted.  While introverts may seek to avoid attracting attention to themselves or may wish to avoid appearing precautious and prefer to have time to consider and reflect on things… this is very different actually fearing some up-and-coming social situation… often weeks in advance.

Now, there may   be some situations which are dominated by people making a show of their intelligence or their experience and this can be intimidating and cause significant anxiety about saying or doing the wrong things… or being exposed as in experienced or stupid.    Indeed the British class system can often intimidate those who feel they don’t fit in to a group… and so may say or doing something that make then look foolish

People with social anxiety are often low on self-esteem – or have a low feeling of self–worth.

So what can be done if you experience social anxiety? Well there are coping strategies – to strike up a conversation, or to find people to talk to; or to ensure you have the option to quit an uncomfortable situation.  You can say to people you meet that you find the gathering daunting (…this is empowering). One drink can make you feel more relaxed – but more can make yopu do things you might regret and just increase your “hangxiety”! Yet these tricks don’t address the core problem.

Better to acknowledge the dynamics that make may you feel uncomfortable.  Imagine being in a situation where everyone else is so eloquent and seems to knowledgeable – almost competing to demonstrate how much they know or how successful they are.  Perhaps you think they may make snide remarks about those who that feel are not “on their level”.  Extroverts may have big egos – or they may be trying hard to project their status or expertise to overcome their own self-doubt or lack of self-confidence – so when someone behaves in this way spend time reflecting on which of these motives might be causing them do so.

Yet there is no shame in not knowing about something.   So, ask how people got started – ask for advice on where you should start; say that things seem so intimidating yet you want to learn.  If someone is rise then simply say – I am trying to find out more… it is not very generous to make fun of others.

Now, there are lots of websites with tips to help you to comp in social situations  – here are some tips listed in the Huffington Post to help you keep calm in a social situation.

Yet rather then just “cope”… it seems to me, that becoming more aware of the issues that may cause you to feel anxious may be a better way to go – there is a very helpful self-help guide here .

And finally, I come back to the issue of low self–esteem .  It may not be to everyone’s’ taste but I have noted that work of psychologist Marisa Peer seems very relevant here. She suggests that we are often influenced and affected by incidents and actions from the past … yet these are no longer relevant.   Here is an interesting piece from the “livingfaithoverfear” blogg by Kara (“Elementary Teacher, Writer, and Spirit Junkie”).  It is a good introduction to power of the “I am enough” mantra.

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