I really want that promotion, but there is no way I’m going for the interview. The panel will all be looking at me and I know I’ll say something that will make me look stupid, they’ll all be watching me and judging everything I say and believe me, I’ll say something catastrophic which will lead to my humiliation or my mind will go blank and I’ll have nothing to say I’m not risking that happening, NO WAY. I’ll just stay where I am because I am not putting myself through that.
Withdrawing from uncomfortable social situations at work, school, in relationships and in daily life for fear of being judged negatively or rejected by others could mean that you are living with Social Anxiety. We all have experienced a form of social anxiety within our lives. The onset usually occurs during the teenage years. This is the time that we are tasked with giving oral presentations in school in front of an audience which can be very stressful and we’re also trying to fit in socially during this time and we care a great deal about what our peers say and think about us, we want to be accepted.
SOCIAL ANXIETY AND ME
I’m going to let you in on a little secret about me. I have mild to moderate symptoms of social anxiety. The working example I lead off within this article is totally me, and I struggle with these symptoms in this certain situation which results in missed opportunities.
As a child I was always the one that was left out in social gatherings with my peers, I’m not sure if that was really the case or if it was just how I felt. As I grew into a young adult, I found that I constantly worried about what other people thought about me, I thought everyone looking at me was judging me negatively and therefore I wasn’t good enough, I felt rejected.
I wouldn’t go to gatherings and I didn’t have many friends, I felt alone because I chose to stay at home by myself, this was a sure way I wouldn’t say or do something stupid and humiliate myself.
I wouldn’t go to restaurant’s by myself, god forbid I would be alone eating and someone judge me for that, or I’d spill my coffee or drop my fork making a clanking noise on the floor drawing attention to myself and looking like a total idiot, NO WAY, I just wouldn’t embarrass myself like that, I’ll order in.
That was me 10 years ago and now my symptoms are very mild and are only present in specific stressful situations for me (such as the job promotion interview scenario above, I’m still working on that one).
I’ve learned to overcome social anxiety through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This took some time and patience. I was actually tasked to put myself in those positions that really made me feel out of my comfort zone and work through them as uncomfortable as they made me feel, and you know what………..it worked!
I can now meet new people and have a conversation with them (I’m still a little shy, but the social anxiety symptoms I’d experienced before are no longer present), I can go to a restaurant by myself and have coffee, or a meal without thinking that everyone is staring at me and judging me. I can involve myself in work discussions and I even lead team meetings which is something that I had never thought I do. I have had really great success with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) it’s had such an impact on my overall wellness.
THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL ANXIETY – HOW SEVERE IS IT?
People who suffer from social anxiety can live a life that is quite lonely, isolation becomes the norm and sometimes people can turn to alcohol and substance use if having to go into those stressful social situations.
Some people fear one or few specific situations (this is me now) while others fear a wide range of situations where symptoms can become debilitating. Social anxiety can have a tremendous negative impact on a person’s well-being.
EMOTIONAL AND BEHAVIORAL SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY
If you suffer from social anxiety you probably find yourself worrying about what other people think of you to the extent that it impacts your everyday interactions. You may begin to withdraw for fear of being scrutinized or rejected by embarrassing or humiliating yourself.
Here are some emotional and behavioral symptoms that people with social anxieties will often display
- Worry about embarrassing or humiliating themselves
- Fear that everyone is watching them and judging them negatively
- Avoid situations where they can become the center of attention
- Fear of talking to strangers
- Spending time after a social situation analyzing performance and identifying flaws in your interaction
- Expecting the worst possible outcome from a negative experience during a social situation
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY
There are several physical symptoms of social anxiety, these can include
- Panic Attacks
- Stomach aches
- Shallow breathing
- Sweating/hot flashes
- Racing heart
- Tense and shaky
People who experience these physical symptoms are more apt to pull themselves away from social situations. Avoidance begins to set in in order to prevent those feelings and symptoms from arising.
AVOIDANCE; LONELINESS SETS IN
People will often find themselves avoiding particular situations that make them feel uncomfortable such as;
- going to school or work
- Social gatherings; parties
- making eye contact
- eating in front of people
- starting conversations
- returning items to a store
Studies have also shown that social anxiety symptoms are present prior to other mental health diagnoses, such as panic disorder, depression and bulimia to name a few, and women are more likely to experience social anxiety than men.
SOCIAL ANXIETY ASSESSMENT TOOL; HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If you believe that you are showing symptoms of Social Anxiety take the Leibowtz Social Anxiety assessment tool (which can be accessed online) to determine if a trip to the doctor’s office may be in order or if you find yourself avoiding specific social situations for fear of embarrassment, worry, and panic, make the call to your doctor, it’s time to take back your life.
UNTREATED SYMPTOMS; COMPLICATIONS WILL ARISE
If symptoms of social anxiety are experienced over long periods of time without some form of treatment many complications can arise, individuals can experience;
- low self-esteem
- negative self talk
- poor social skills
- trouble being assertive
- substance abuse
- suicidal thoughts
Major depressive disorder and substance abuse often occur with social anxiety.
TREATMENT; TIME FOR WELLNESS
Research shows that the most effective forms of treatment used to treat social anxiety disorder are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and medication. If you think you are suffering from any of these symptoms contact your doctor right away.
SOCIAL ANXIETY IS REAL
People who have symptoms of social anxiety will find ways to avoid social situations for fear of rejection, embarrassment and humiliation. The emotional and physical feelings associated with social anxiety are very real and can have a negative impact on a person’s life. People who are experiencing symptoms become very lonely and isolate themselves from daily interactions which can cause other mental health concerns. If you know someone who displays some or all of these symptoms, talk to them, review informative information surrounding social anxiety and discuss making that call to the doctor.
Stepping back onto the path of wellness allows us to continue on our journey to endless possibilities