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Social Anxiety

Author: Edel Malone

1st Dec 2011

Many people get nervous or self conscious at times, like public speaking or going on a date but social anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with you going to places or spending time with people because of what you fear might happen. Social anxiety involves fear of certain social situations - especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel you will be watched or evaluated by others. These social situations may be so scary to you that you get anxious just thinking about them or you may go to great lengths to avoid them. Underlying social anxiety is the fear of being scrutinized, judged or embarrassed in public. You may be afraid that people will think badly of you or that you won’t measure up in comparison to others.

Situations that may trigger social anxiety:

  • Meeting new people
  • Being the centre of attention
  • Being watched while doing something
  • Making small talk
  • Public speaking
  • Performing
  • Being teased or criticised
  • Talking with "important" people or authority figures
  • Being called on in class
  • Going on a date
  • Making phone calls
  • Using public bathrooms
  • Taking exams
  • Eating or drinking in public
  • Speaking in a meeting
  • Attending parties or social gatherings

Some physical symptoms you might experience: Palpitations, trembling, sweating, tense muscles, twitching muscles, dry throat, blushing, dizziness, sinking feeling in the stomach or an overwhelming feeling of wanting to escape.

You might feel, think or do:

  • You might feel intense worry for days weeks or months before the upcoming event
  • Feel extreme fear of being watched judged by others especially people you don’t know
  • May feel self consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
  • Fear that you’ll act in ways that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
  • Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
  • You might feel self conscious and feel like you have failed
  • You might avoid the feared social situation which can lead to isolation from friends and family
  • You might feel more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs to make you feel less inhibited especially in the feared situations.
  • How psychotherapy can help:
    Psychotherapy is a talking therapy and aims to increase the individual's sense of their own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialogue, communication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client. The therapist is there to facilitate and support you in providing a safe and nurturing environment to facilitate growth and healing. Through the process of psychotherapy a person can identify, learn to manage and ultimately overcome emotional and mental difficulties while also learning to better understand and accept him/herself.

    How CBT can help:
    CBT consists of a number of techniques, many of which focus on problematic thinking. Cognitive methods help lessen anxiety in interpersonal relationships and groups, and gives the person with social anxiety a feeling of control over their anxiety in social situations. The ultimate goal of cognitive therapy is to change your underlying core beliefs (also known as your “schemas”) which influence how you interpret your environment. A change in your core beliefs will lead to long-lasting improvement of your anxiety symptoms. One of the central problems targeted by CBT are automatic negative thoughts, also known as cognitive distortions. People with social anxiety have developed automatic negative ways of thinking that are misaligned with reality, increase anxiety, and lessen your ability to cope. These thoughts occur instantly when you think about an anxiety-provoking situation. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, just thinking about the situation will elicit thoughts of embarrassment and fear of failure. The goal of CBT is to replace these cognitive distortions with more realistic views.

    Social anxiety is very common which means that if you do experience it you are certainly not alone and it is possible to find help

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