Are you wondering if you have Social Anxiety Disorder?
If so, you’re in the right place.
In this article you will discover:
-Section 1: What is Social Anxiety?
-Section 2: Do I have Social Anxiety?
-Section 3: Social Anxiety Symptoms
-Section 4: What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder
-Section 5: How to Overcome Social Anxiety
- Strategy 1: Observe Your Thoughts
- Strategy 2: Challenge Your Thoughts
- Strategy 3: Process the World From the Inside Out
- Strategy 4: Focus on Your Breathing
- Strategy 5: Improve Your Social Skills
- Strategy 6: Engage Your Fears
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety & Social Anxiety Disorder can be identified by a fear of social situations. This anxiety ultimately stems from a fear of being negatively evaluated or judged by others.
If you have social anxiety you might experience a fear of performing in front of other people. Thoughts like “what if I fail?” or “What if people laugh at me?” invade your thinking.
You might experience discomfort when meeting new people.
In social situations, you may worry about making a bad first impression (being seen as boring, weak, crazy, unlikable, etc.).
Often times people with social anxiety experience anxiety about their anxiety.
You might worry that others will notice the signs that you are feeling anxious
(blushing, rambling, stumbling over words, etc.).
At the end of the day, if you have social anxiety you will notice a fixation about the thoughts and judgments others have about you (or your performance).
The fear that is experienced by those with social anxiety is often disproportionate to the danger in the actual situation.
The Amazing News: The really great news is that social anxiety and social anxiety disorder are treatable.
With some dedication and practice, you don’t have to live with social anxiety forever.
Social Anxiety Disorder comes from unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving.
The thoughts and behavior that create anxiety become so normal you don’t even realize you have them.
You CAN learn healthy strategies for your thinking and behavior that will help you OVERCOME social anxiety.
The more you practice these strategies the stronger your new habits will become.
As these healthy habits become your new normal, you will begin to see VICTORY over social anxiety.
Do I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?
Let’s just start by getting to know what anxiety is a little better…
Anxiety Definition: An enduring sense of worry and unease.
Anxiety can be triggered in many different ways. Social anxiety is just anxiety that is triggered by upcoming social situations or even the thought of social interaction.
Social anxiety exists on a spectrum. Think about anxiety in terms of a 1-10 scale, 10 being crippling anxiety.
Many people have social anxiety but do not have Social Anxiety Disorder (or S.A.D.).
Social Anxiety Disorder severely limits your ability to function in everyday life.
People with S.A.D. find that they are often unable to stand against the overwhelming fear and worry they experience.
Their fear stops them from doing the things they want to do.
Someone with S.A.D. would score in the 8-10 range on the social anxiety scale.
Example Scenario: Suppose you know in advance that you will be attending a social gathering where you will meet other people in your peer group. You begin to feel anxious about first impressions and saying the wrong thing.
- You worry constantly for days leading up to the gathering. Just before the event, you have a panic attack. You feel nauseous and decide not to go.
INSTEAD, suppose you went to the event. You experience some dryness in your mouth, a slightly fast heartbeat, and a little sweating. At the end of the day you leave but you were able to engage with new people even though later you worried about what they thought of you.
In Scenario 1, your ability to function normally is strongly inhibited by your anxiety.
You wanted to go to the event and meet new people but you felt powerless to overcome your fear.
In this case, your ability to function normally is strongly inhibited by your anxiety.
If this sounds like a normal experience to you, you may have social anxiety disorder.
In situations like this, it would be a good idea to find a supportive, Licensed counselor who specializes in treating anxiety disorders.
If you are seeking counseling in New York City, contact us today to learn more about our services!
In scenario 2, you felt anxious but were still able to participate in normal daily activity.
Your anxiety was on the lower end of the social anxiety spectrum.
You feel that your anxiety is inconvenient and irrational but not crippling.
You probably have social anxiety but not social anxiety disorder.
Even though you don’t have an anxiety disorder, it will still be helpful to learn the strategies discussed below
Want to learn strategies to manage your Social anxiety? contact us today to learn more about our services!
How Does Social Anxiety Affect Your Life?
The fear that comes with social anxiety disorder keeps you from doing the things that you want to do.
You want to have meaningful friendships but the fear stops you in your tracks.
Most people with social anxiety know that their thoughts are irrational, they just don’t have the tools to overcome their current way of thinking.
Those with social anxiety often feel powerless in the face of their anxiety.
Social Anxiety Symptoms
Social anxiety has both physical and psychological symptoms.
Use the list below as a checklist to determine how severe your anxiety is.
Most common physical symptoms of social anxiety may include:
- A rapid heartbeat
- Tension in your muscles
- Rigid or stiff body posture
- Lack of eye contact
- Speaking with an overly soft voice
- Diarrhea, nausea, or other stomach problems
- Dry mouth
- Trouble catching your breath
- The feeling of being “out-of-body”
- Excessive blushing, sweating or trembling
- The feeling of your “mind going blank”
- Full-blown panic attacks
Most common psychological symptoms of social anxiety may include:
- Being overly self-conscious around others
- Feeling embarrassed or awkward in front of others
- Having negative self-talk and self-defeating thoughts
- Having low-self-esteem
- Having poor social skills
- Experiencing excessive sensitivity to criticism
- Experiencing excessive submissiveness
- Expecting the worst possible outcome in social situations
- Over analyzing and worrying about how you behaved in past social
- Living at home longer
- Criticizing or identifying flaws in past social interactions
- Avoiding interactions with others
- Avoiding places where a lot of people will be
- Fear of judgments from others
- Anxiety over meeting new people
- Being withdrawn or closed off in conversation
- Revealing little about yourself in conversation
- Using alcohol or substances to cope
- Seeking employment where social interaction is not necessary
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder seems to run in families.
Social anxiety most often begins in the early teenage years.
Cause 1: It’s likely that anxiety-producing lifestyles and thinking habits are learned gradually during childhood and then first begin to produce anxiety during the social pressures of young adulthood.
While it is less common, when social anxiety disorder begins in adulthood there is often a specific triggering event.
What’s not as clear is whether social anxiety is a genetic disorder or something that is learned.
Cause 2: It’s most likely a bit of both.
Genes are a little bit more complicated than most people think. Genes work a bit like a light switch.
It’s possible to have genes that predispose you to anxiety. But just because someone has the ‘anxiety gene(s)’ doesn’t mean they WILL develop an anxiety disorder.
If someone has a genetic predisposition to anxiety and they then go through a traumatic event, they are more likely to then develop an anxiety disorder.
The traumatic experience may activate the gene (turn on the light switch).
The great news is that no matter how your social anxiety came about, there are effective strategies to overcome it.
Let’s look at some of those strategies now.
How To Overcome Social Anxiety
Strategy 1: Observe Your Thoughts
Most people are unaware of what they are thinking or why they are thinking about it.
To overcome social anxiety you need to learn to observe your thought process.
Generally speaking, the thoughts you focus on the most lead to the emotions you feel most often.
If you feel anxious often, it’s most likely because you’re allowing thoughts that create anxiety to hang around your mind.
Mind Reading: You know you’re mind reading when you assume that you know the thoughts or intentions of other people when they haven’t actually shared their thoughts with you.
“He thinks I’m stupid…”
“She doesn’t like me…”
Mind reading is a type of thought you want to identify as you are observing the types of thoughts your mind gravitates towards.
Catastrophizing Thoughts: Be aware of the thoughts that gravitate toward impending catastrophe. Thoughts of inevitable cataclysmic disasters are unhealthy and WILL create anxiety.
When you catastrophize, your mind makes a small event into a HUGE problem.
“I made that conversation so awkward they will never want to talk to me again.”
Personalizing Thoughts: Personalizing thoughts can occur when someone believes others are always focused on what they’re doing. This thought pattern leads people to believe that events outside their control are somehow their fault.
This is especially the case if you are constantly worried that others are watching and negatively judging you.
Discounting the Positive: This type of thinking results from automatically assuming the negative explanation of any event.
The person who discounts the positive sees the positive aspects of what happened but chalks them up to chance.
Example: You study for weeks for an important test and pass the test with an A.
Most people would recognize that the A was a result of hard work and dedication.
However, if you discount the positive, you will conclude that the good grade was just luck.
Fortune Telling: Another type of thought to be aware of are thoughts that assume poor outcomes of future social events.
Many people engage in this type of thinking because they unconsciously hold the belief, “what happened in the past will happen in the future.”
When people have one bad experience, their imagination irrationally begins to see the same event in the future.
Remember: Just because it happened in the past doesn’t make what happens in the future any more or less likely.
You can reduce your anxiety by leaving the fortune-telling to the fortune-tellers.
To change the habits you have formed in your thinking, you have to dedicate yourself to being aware of the thoughts that come into your mind all day, every day.
(To learn about other kinds of unhealthy thinking, check out this article → HERE)
Strategy 2: Challenge Your Thoughts
Just because you think or believe something doesn’t make it true.
Challenging your thoughts is just like spring cleaning.
Take ahold of each thought that crosses your mind and ask yourself, “Should I keep this or should I throw it away?”
You can also ask yourself “does this thought create more peace or more anxiety?”
Challenge: Once you have identified an irrational thought, replace it by choosing to say the correct thoughts to yourself in two different ways.
This retrains and rewires your mind to think in a healthier way.
Example: Suppose you have this catastrophizing thought, “People will notice that I’m anxious and then they think something is wrong with me?”
You now have to say two healthy thoughts to yourself.
- “What if nobody notices that I’m feeling nervous and I get to know someone new? That’s more likely.”
- It’s possible that things go really well and they invite me to hang out sometime.
When you begin this habit, you might find yourself getting sick of the number of times you have to repeat healthy thoughts to yourself.
Just hang in there and don’t quit. Making new mental habits takes a lot of time and effort!
Remember you are retraining your brain to think in a completely different way.
If you stick with it, a month down the road you will have less unhealthy thoughts and you may only need to do this exercise a few times a day.
With time, you will develop healthy thinking habits.
(For more information on how to challenge your thoughts, check out this video → HERE)
Strategy 3: Process the World From the Inside Out
People who struggle with social anxiety are often concerned about negative thoughts, judgments, comments, intentions of the people around them.
Trying to know what is inside of other people’s minds can lead to unhealthy patterns of thought like catastrophizing, personalizing, fortune-telling, and mind-reading.
These things often have one thing in common.
People with social anxiety think that if they knew for sure that the people around them really accepted them, their anxiety would go away.
But why would acceptance resolve anxiety?
Many times the anxious person believes that if they are accepted by others, they must be acceptable as a person.
This is to say that some people with anxiety look to other people to tell them who they are.
This is an unhelpful way of thinking.
When you look to others to tell you who you are, you are asking people on the outside to tell you who you are on the inside.
We’ll call this Outside-In Defining.
Outside-In Defining is a real problem because as soon as anyone decides they don’t like you, you consider yourself an unlikeable person.
When someone thinks you failed at something, then you think you must be a failure.
According to this way of thinking, at any moment one person’s negative assessment of you would forever make you a weirdo, a failure, worthless, or stupid.
No wonder social anxiety is out of control.
So what’s the solution?
Accept the Motto: “What other people think of me is none of my business”
Begin to define yourself from the inside out.
This means YOU DECIDE WHO YOU ARE on the inside.
Let’s Apply It:
- Determine what you’re afraid to be (a failure, weak, quiet, etc.).
- Find evidence or a belief you hold that will help you know FOR SURE that the thing you’re afraid of being is untrue. (“I KNOW I’m not a failure because every time I get knocked down, I get back up and try again. This guarantees I’ll be a successful person.”)
- Every time you feel yourself looking to other people to define you from the outside-in, remind yourself of all the reasons why you know this is untrue. (“I KNOW FOR SURE I’m a great friend because of X, Y, Z”)
From this point forward, practice processing the world from the inside out every day.
Need help with these therapy techniques? call us for a free 15-minute consultation today!
Strategy 4: Focus on Your Breathing
First, let’s just make it known that breathing strategies are not something you use only when you are anxious.
Healthy breathing habits that are done all day every day will help reduce anxiety.
- Fix Your Posture. Keeping your shoulders back and sitting up straight has been shown to directly affect how people feel about themselves. Not only this but sitting up straight opens up your lungs to breathe fully.
- Breathe From Your Stomach: Slow, deep breaths in and out of your stomach WILL calm you down if you continue to do so for 2-4 minutes. (Fast and shallow breathing from your chest creates anxiety.)
- 4-3-4 Breaths: Slow your breathing by taking a long, 4 second inhale into your stomach, hold it for 3 seconds, then release for 4 seconds. Then repeat. Make this a habit that you engage in EVERY time you begin feeling anxious.
Let’s Apply It:
Experiment 1: Get your smartphone out and set your timer to 3 minutes.
Slouch your posture and breath fast, shallow breaths into your upper chest.
After three minutes, reflect on how you feel.
Ask yourself how your emotional state changed.
Experiment 2: Now that you have gotten yourself all worked up, set your timer again to 3 minutes.
This time, take 4-3-4 breaths into and out of your stomach.
Focus your mind on something you find comforting and peaceful. At the end of this time, reflect on how you now feel.
How much change do you feel in only three minutes of breathing in a healthy way?
Now that you have experienced the difference healthy breathing makes, get serious about changing your breathing habits.
(You can also check out our breathing and mindfulness walkthroughs → HERE)
Strategy 5: Improve Your Social Skills
Sometimes people develop Social Anxiety Disorder because they have felt embarrassed about being shy or awkward around people.
Sometimes people haven’t had the same amount of practice in the area of social skills as others.
If this sounds like you, make learning about social skills a normal part of your life.
- Take a social skills class: Taking a class at a local community center or community college can help to refine your social skills so that you feel more confident.
- Get a good book on communication: Websites like amazon have hundreds of books about communication. Give one a try.
- Do things you love with others: Sometimes it can be helpful to find something you enjoy doing and then do it with other people.
(Check out this short article on social skills → HERE)
Strategy 6: Engage Your Fears
As we know, anxiety tells you to RUN AWAY. Anxiety wants you to think the more you avoid the thing you fear, the less fear you will experience.
This is not what actually happens.
In the short run, you feel less fear.
In the long run, the less you are exposed to the thing you are afraid of, the bigger it seems.
Over time, your fear can take over your life.
So what do you do about this?
You must engage your fear, little by little.
In counseling, this is called exposure therapy.
Begin by writing down the things you could do that would cause the least and most anxiety.
Once you have these anxiety causing behaviors in order from least to greatest, you begin by engaging with the least scary thing on the scale.
Right now, take a few moments to list some things that cause you anxiety using the diagram below.
I have filled in some examples to get you thinking.
1 – Low Anxiety Behavior:_(Say hello to someone you know)_________
3: ________________(Say hello to someone you don’t know)_________
5 – Moderate Anxiety Behaviors: ___(Attend a social event alone)______
8: __________________(Ask someone on a date)___________________
10 – High Anxiety Behaviors:_(Share something personal about yourself)_
Once you have made your list of things that cause anxiety, dedicate yourself to mastering the low end of the scale.
You want to challenge yourself, but don’t go too quickly either.
(Imagine you begin lifting weights. You want to push yourself, but if you lift too much when you begin you will tear a muscle.)
When you begin to face your fears, take a moment afterward to find the lesson in your experience.
For example: “Nothing crazy happened when I made small talk with the bag lady at the grocery store. I guess chatting with new people isn’t so bad.”
The goal of engaging with your fears is to form new beliefs over time.
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