You might be thinking that social anxiety or social phobia is just over-dramatization of the fact that you prefer your own company over anyone else’s and there is nothing wrong with that. Well, answer these questions for yourself:
- Do you often avoid meeting new people?
- Do you prefer staying indoors that going to a party?
- Are you hesitant in joining a new class or gym just because you feel you would be judged as too lean or overweight?
- Is ordering in and eating alone your prefered choice over going out or eating with someone else?
- Do you avoid voicing your opinions simply because you will draw too much attention
? Doyou detest small talk or social interactions which are not absolutely necessary?
- Are you worried that people will feel that you are boring or awkward?
If your answer to at least four of these questions is yes, you might be edging towards social anxiety.
Social Anxiety: When Shyness Turns Into Phobia
In medical terms, Social anxiety refers to “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, they often avoid social or performance situations, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress.”
Now in simple terms, if you avoid situations which require any sort of social interaction, or would put you in the limelight, you might be suffering from social phobia. If you have social anxiety, you would prefer avoiding the situation altogether or you would act up in different ways.
For instance, your palms would get sweaty, you might stutter, you would avoid eye-contact. Situations where you may have to talk to strangers or even walk into a room full of unknown people would get you worked up.
Social Anxiety Becoming A Trend
When you sneeze, you know you have got cold. You know you might get fever. And you know that’s not fine. You work towards curing it. That’s how people usually react to most ailments.
But, we, millennials, have changed this norm when it comes to social anxiety. How often we repost memes like “What makes life complicated? People” or “ My New Year’s Eve- Netfix, Pizza, Beer and Me”. While this may be nature for some, a lot of people mask their anxiety under the layers of these trending “cool” attitudes.
That’s what makes it more difficult to deal with. You may choose to spend the weekend alone. That’s fine. But if you are going it because you are conscious or anxious in the company of others, then there’s an issue that needs addressing.
While people with social anxiety might face innumerable situations where their symptoms get active, here are a few common instances which affect them.
- A conversation with a stranger
- Entry in a new space: Work, Classroom, Meeting Hall, Gym
- An interaction with too many people: Party, Conference
- Mass communication or public speaking
- Eating in a public space or with someone around
- Being observed while engaged in an activity like working out
The list could go on but you get the drift, right?
Now it is easy to connect the dots and declare yourself to have social anxiety. Well, remember, little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You may have reacted or felt uncomfortable in some of the above mentioned instances. But what was your perception of that instance? What we you thinking at that point that made you uncomfortable?
These questions must be answered before you jump to any conclusion.
Most of the times, people with social anxiety have four perceptions that drive their stress levels. These are:
- Judgement: I will look like a fool. I will be judged.
- Embarrassment: I will get embarrassed and humiliated.
- Attention: I will draw too much attention
- Disapproval: I will offend someone or be disliked
The need to have people’s approval and what their perception about you is becomes a priority for people suffering from social anxiety.
It is said that social anxiety runs in families. If any family member has social anxiety, you too get prone to it. It is because genetically the part of your brain that controls fears known as amygdala is overactive. As a result, your shyness gets converted into social phobia over time.
Social Anxiety often starts at teenage. Needless to say, certain experiences that we have during this crucial phase of our life shape our fears and henceforth give us the anxiety. Teenagers with history of bullying, molestation, teasing, abuse often turn into socially anxious adults.
One of the lesser known causes of social anxiety is also bad parenting. Kids who are often kept in a cocoon and are over-sheltered by their parents fear interacting with people without parental supervision even as adults. It’s simple logic right? If your parent is always the one introducing you to a stranger, you will never learn to introduce yourself.
Under situations which make a person socially anxious, he or she is likely to have certain immediate reactions to it. These are:
- Dizziness and Nausea
- Muscle Tension
- Stomach Related Issues
- Increased Heart Rate
Social Anxiety affects an individual’s lifestyle, personality and relationships in the long term. Its long-term effects include:
- Depression: Often a person gets lonely when he avoids social interactions rendering himself susceptible to depression.
- Addiction: When a person gets anxious, he is likely to resort to some medication, drug, alcohol and other substances.Every time anxiety hit him, the substance becomes the solution and the person gets addicted to it.
- Personality Disorders: Social anxiety leaves a person in self-doubts, fills his mind with negative thoughts and makes him overcritical. Over time, the person develop serious personality issues due to it.
Social Anxiety is a psychological disorder. While if in critical condition, consulting a doctor is the best solution for you. There are certain small steps you could take if you feel you are edging towards it.
Someone has rightly said, “Fear can mean two things: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.” Yes, you will get uncomfortable. Yes, you might sweat a bit. Yes, you will not enjoy it. But once you face that awkward social interaction, it will never be the same again.
Set Small Goals
Now if you are heading out to face your social phobia, no one is asking you to be the keynote speaker at a conference or host a party right away. Start small, take small steps and set small goals. For instance, start with going out for a dinner with an old friend you may not have in touch for a while.
Exercise and Relax
If muscle tension and breathlessness are one of the primary effects that social anxiety has on you, exercise is your strongest ally. Exercise helps in relaxing your muscles as well as calms you down. Yoga can be great too.
Find Your People
Even though interactions with people make you anxious, there are always certain people you would be comfortable in talking to. Be a part of a team, a group or a community that relates to the same subjects as you do or understands your condition. Fitato Community can be a great place to start with too.
At the end, remember, there is nothing in this world that can trouble you as much as your own thoughts. So, stop overthinking, start acting!
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