What causes social anxiety?
Although it may feel like you’re the only one with this problem, social anxiety is actually quite common. Many people struggle with these fears. But the situations that trigger the symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be different.
Some people experience anxiety in most social situations. For others, anxiety is connected to specific social situations, such as speaking to strangers, mingling at parties, or performing in front of an audience.
Common social anxiety triggers
• Meeting new people
• Making small talk
• Public speaking
• Performing on stage
• Being the center of attention
• Being watched while doing something
• Being teased or criticized
• Talking with “important” people or authority figures
• Being called on in class
• Going on a date
• Speaking up in a meeting
• Using public restrooms
• Taking exams
• Eating or drinking in public
• Making phone calls
• Attending parties or other social gatherings
Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder
Just because you occasionally get nervous in social situations doesn’t mean you have social anxiety disorder or social phobia. Many people feel shy or self-conscious on occasion, yet it doesn’t get in the way of their everyday functioning. Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, does interfere with your normal routine and causes tremendous distress.
For example, it’s perfectly normal to get the jitters before giving a speech. But if you have social anxiety, you might worry for weeks ahead of time, call in sick to get out of it, or start shaking so bad during the speech that you can hardly speak.
Emotional signs and symptoms
Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation
Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people you don’t know
Fear that you’ll act in ways that will embarrass or humiliate yourself Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
Physical signs and symptoms
Red face, or blushing
Shortness of breath
Upset stomach, nausea (i.e. butterflies) Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice) Racing heart or tightness in chest
Sweating or hot flashes
Feeling dizzy or faint
Behavioural signs and symptoms
Avoiding social situations to a degree that limits your activities or disrupts your life
Staying quiet or hiding in the background in order to escape notice and embarrassment
A need to always bring a buddy along with you wherever you go Drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves
Challenge negative thoughts
While it may seem like there’s nothing you can do about the symptoms of social anxiety disorder or social phobia, in reality, there are many things that can help. The first step is challenging your mentality.
Social anxiety sufferers have negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their anxiety. These can include thoughts such as:
“I know I’ll end up looking like a fool.”
“My voice will start shaking an I’ll humiliate myself.” “People will think I’m stupid”
“I won’t have anything to say. I’ll seem boring.”
Challenging these negative thoughts is an effective way to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety
How to challenge negative thoughts
The first step is to identify the automatic negative thoughts that underlie your fear of social situations. For example, if you’re worried about an upcoming work presentation, the underlying negative thought might be: “I’m going to blow it. Everyone will think I’m completely incompetent.”
The next step is to analyze and challenge them. It helps to ask yourself questions about the negative thoughts: “Do I know for sure that I’m going to blow the presentation?” or “Even if I’m nervous, will people necessarily think I’m incompetent?” Through this logical evaluation of your negative thoughts, you can gradually replace them with more realistic and positive ways of looking at social situations that trigger your anxiety.
It can be incredibly scary to think about why you feel and think the way you do, but understanding the reasons for your anxieties will help lessen their negative impact on your life.