Do you have an overwhelming fear of social situations?
If so, then you could be suffering from something known as Social anxiety. Social anxiety is different to being nervous about making a presentation, or going into a job interview. It is an intense fear which can take over your everyday life.
You might feel like you are thinking about social situations all the time, and how you can avoid them or mask your fear.
If this sounds like you, then take a look at the information and advice about social anxiety, and how you can conquer it.
THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY
Social anxiety can be different from person to person, as with a lot of mental health problems. But there are some common situations which those with social anxiety can find terrifying. These include:
Speaking up within a group of people
Meeting new people
Speaking over the phone, or being the one to start a telephone call
Speaking to authority figures, such as the police, their boss or security personnel
Everyday situations, such as eating in public or going shopping.
Generally, those with social anxiety find it incredibly difficult to make eye-to-eye contact with others, especially strangers. They often worry what others may be thinking of them, and fear being criticised. It can produce feelings of low self esteem, and can sometimes even lead to other mental health issues arising, such as depression.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET SOCIAL ANXIETY?
There are a lot of reasons why social anxiety can develop. Some studies suggest that if you have family members who have suffered from anxiety, then you are more likely to suffer from it yourself. However, there is further study needed in this area.
The most common reason why people develop social anxiety is due to environmental factors and life experiences. A person may have had a very strict family, who criticised them a lot but praised them rarely. Alternatively, a persons upbringing may have been very sheltered and they have been overprotected and smothered. Social anxiety can stem from adolescence, from incidences of bullying or trying to meet the expectation of their peers. But people can also develop it during adulthood and later life.
If you are currently in a situation and are feeling very panicked due to social anxiety (or for any other reason), then our panic button could be very useful.
WHERE CAN YOU GET HELP?
If you can relate to the information on this page, and you think you may be suffering from social anxiety, there are many things you can do to try and get help.
As with any mental health issue, the best thing that you can do is talk about it. I know this might sound like an impossible challenge with social anxiety, but there are lots of ways around it. You can talk face-to-face or over the phone with someone you trust if you feel you can. On the other hand, a text, an email or a letter are also great ways to convey your feelings and worries to someone.
Online communities with like minded people – such as us at Anxiety United – are great places to discuss your worries, getting everything off your chest and receiving great advice from people who have been in your shoes.
It is a good idea to speak with your GP if you can. A lot of surgeries now have online facilities to make appointments, so you don’t need to speak to someone if you don’t feel you can. But know that ultimately, they are there to help you and will make any adjustments they can to make things easier for you – whether it be to organise a telephone appointment or an appointment to be made at a quieter time. Some GP’s may even come out to see you on a home visit.
When you do see/speak to your GP, they will be able to signpost you to local services which will help you. They may suggest trying a talking therapy, such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
They will likely discuss a diagnosis with you and could even suggest some medication to help with your symptoms.
AN EXPOSURE STEPLADDER
A tool which many social anxiety sufferers find useful is to create an exposure stepladder. The basic idea behind this is that it gives you very gradual, small steps to reach an eventual goal, something which you feel you cannot achieve because of your social anxiety.
You can write your steps down on a piece of paper. As an example, let’s say that your social anxiety meant that you didn’t feel you could make a certain telephone call. Your stepladder may look a bit like this:
Sit with your phone in your hand, and dial a number (that of a friend or family member). You don’t need to press call. Just hear the tone of the numbers being punched in, familiarise yourself with what this sounds like, and remind yourself that you are completely safe.
Sit with your phone in your hand, and dial a number again. Press call, and listen to the sound of one ring, and hang up. Repeat. Once you get comfortable with getting to one ring, then wait for two rings. Then when you are comfortable with that, wait for three rings. Build your tolerance to the feeling of suspense.
Have your phone in your hand, and this time, call something like the talking clock, or something which you can just listen to, knowing that you don’t need to say anything at all. Know you are perfectly okay.
This time around, call up someone you know, and speak to them for a short amount of time… let’s say 30 seconds to 1 minute. When you get comfortable with this step, you can move on. Increase the amount of time you speak to the person by a minute at a time, until making a call doesn’t feel so daunting anymore. You know that you can hold a conversation, which will build your confidence.
Get the number for the place where you need to call (for example, the benefits office or gas company). Repeat step one, and just listen to the tone of the keys. You can do this as many times as you like until you are comfortable. Remind yourself that you are okay.
Get your facts ready for the phonecall so you feel as prepared as possible (eg recent bills, letters, anything which relates to the reason you are calling). Know that you have everything you need in front of you. If you need to practice step two, that’s okay.
Make that all important phone call. Remember that you are completely in control. When you finish the phonecall, record your feelings on a piece of paper. Realise your achievements and be proud of yourself.
The above is a specific example. Obviously in this case, the friend or family member you were practicing on would need to know you would be calling their phone a lot and be okay with that! And this process would be carried out over probably a matter of weeks, not all in the same day. But it can be applied to a lot of situations, just make the steps small. The key is to make sure you are comfortable with a step before you move onto the next one, and try not to skip any steps.