Updated: Apr 5
Ah, what a day it is! Beautiful morning sun, out of the bed, I look at myself in the mirror, “I’m looking pretty and I haven’t even washed my face!” It’s that kind of a day. Getting ready with a bright smile on, I have my breakfast and start the day. On my way to college, I put on my headphones to avoid conversations. I won’t let anyone ruin my happy mood. I see someone approaching me - are they judging me for what I’ve worn? Are they coming to make fun of me??
“Hey, did you do the homework?” they ask, but all I hear is constant white noise at the back of my mind. My heart starts beating fast, my breaths fasten, I have trouble breathing and staying focused. The entire scenario gets blurry. And just like that my happy mood is ruined. Let alone giving presentation, I cannot even have a decent conversation with a fellow classmate without getting all worked up. Is there something wrong with me?
Social Anxiety in very simple terms is anxiety felt in certain (or almost every) social situation. It is the fear, discomfort, excessive worry of being judged negatively in social situations. It is normal to feel some anxiety in stressful social interactions like in an interview or presentation etc. but when you feel anxious even while talking to a classmate, or an acquaintance, it might be labeled as social anxiety.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines social anxiety as “ intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words), or being viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring.” As a result, people who are socially anxious often avoid social interactions like talking to strangers, dating, partying, starting conversations, speaking in public, etc. as much as they can.
The fear of being judged, embarrassing yourself, offending someone, being the center of conversation, etc. can hamper the flow of thought process which then hampers the behavior.
Some of the physical symptoms include rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and disassociation. It is one of the most common problem felt by people universally.
You’re not the only one.
In my experience, social anxiety usually could be caused by
- Lack of exposure to social situations: if you’re someone who doesn’t have friends, it will be difficult for you to talk to people or your first ever presentation will make you anxious because you’ll be afraid how people will react)
- History of a social event having gone wrong: you participated in a group discussion and didn’t get a positive response).
- History of abuse, bullying, or teasing, shyness, having overbearing or controlling parents and/or any health condition that draws attention to your appearance or voice.
Below are a few things that can help you with social anxiety are:
→ Socialise more, do whatever scares you more. As silly and scary as it sounds, exposing yourself to something that scares you repeatedly decreases the fear it induces. Scared of talking to strangers? Don’t shy away from any stranger that approaches you (of course stay safe though!). As much as you don’t want to, talk to them. Talk to the shopkeeper, talk to the pharmacist etc.
→ Systematic desensitisation. Order the events that trigger your social anxiety from least to most (least, for example, could be talking to the grocery person, and most, for example, could be giving a presentation/addressing a crowd). Now slowly, with help of loved and trusted ones, repeatedly expose yourself to these situations (starting from the least ones) till it no longer triggers anxiety and move up on the hierarchy.
→ Get professional intervention. Seek help from a psychologist or a psychotherapist.
→ Improve your physical well being, work on your sleep and diet schedule. A healthy and fit body and mind can conquer almost everything.
→ Talk to your trusted people, friends and family.
→ Reach out to online services that provide free listening services like 7cups.com
→ Do voluntary services. You’ll be able to socialize more, have community service in your resume and do something productive.
→ Write down your improvements and keep a track of your experiences. The goal is to overcome social anxiety.
→ Reward yourself every time you’re able to overcome social anxiety even in the smallest of the situation. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be materialistic always.
→ Practice and work on your social skills. I’m not saying you lack social skills, but
improvement of anything in any form is never a waste.
→ One step at a time, one day at a time, one challenge at a time.
→ Acknowledge and identify what you feel. Never push your feelings away.
→ And lastly, stop being hard on yourself. Give yourself time to grow. You don’t have to be perfect. Self help guide is a great source to social anxiety. Feel free to check it out.
Bottom line that I would like to give this article is, social anxiety isn’t something that can’t be cured. Yes it may seem difficult to overcome it but it’s not impossible. Some amount of anxiety is totally acceptable and normal, but if it causes disruptions in your day to day activities, do something about it. Do not let your anxiety win over you. Be the master of your mind, not the slave of your thoughts.
- Simran Singh