Social Anxiety
Social Anxiety

We can sometimes be uncomfortable in social situations, whether it’s in a large group, people we don’t know, starting a new job, dating or being introduced to a friend’s friend. Sometimes it’s down to how we feel that day, what’s going on for us mentally/ physically, or simply down to our personality as to how we handle those kinds of situations. You may be sparing with your efforts on purpose to preserve your own boundaries, struggle with conversation or jump feet first into that new adventure of a new connection with someone. We are all different in our approaches and for various reasons and this doesn’t make our approach problematic from the off.

What does make it problematic is when your interactions are repeatedly hampered by:

  • Nerves
  • Nausea
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate/ breathing rate
  • Sweating before and in the situation
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Worrying that you can’t contribute
  • Worrying that you’ll make a fool of your self
  • Self-doubt
  • Your thoughts of what other people may think of you

If you’re ticking many on this list then you could be experiencing social anxiety.

High levels of social anxiety can be debilitating and if you suffer from it, then you’ll know that you will have missed out events, missed out on making connections, missed out on achieving goals, missed out on dates, skipped classes, and perhaps lost friends as a result of your anxiety controlling you.

Common to social anxiety is the avoidance technique: have you avoided public speaking, taking part in group work, not voiced your opinion in a meeting or avoided addressing your boss on an issue causing you concern?

The thought of taking part in these activities has a physical impact on you, as discussed above in the bullet points. These are uncomfortable, can be embarrassing and reinforce the avoidance technique because let’s face it- who wants to have these things happen to us? If we don’t have to face a situation then we won’t experience the side effects of being in that situation.

Safety behaviours can also play a part in handling anxiety, as the name suggests, these are behaviours that are perceived to help us cope and stay safe in challenging situations- this could be only conversing with those that you know on the outskirts of the group you’d actually like to be talking to, staying quiet or in the extreme, drinking for courage in key social situations.

Negative thoughts also play a part too- we fortune tell the future, make a narrative based on past experience about how scenarios will play out for us and we convince ourselves we can’t do something or we will fail at what we are trying to achieve. This lowers our levels of self-esteem therefore, our outward confidence becomes diminished. Has your inner critic talked you out of situations in the past and have you regretted not attending?

OK, so situation avoided, negative self-talk gave us evidence we couldn’t do it and we employed the safety behaviour of staying quiet; mission accomplished! What are you left with? You’re left with a fear of that situation in the future, you’re left with a learned behaviour of avoiding situations that don’t take you out of your comfort zone, you’re left with not having said what you wanted to say, you’re left unhappy, you’re left with not having grown as a result of interaction and accomplishment and you’re left with a bigger inner critic with a bigger bag of evidence against you…

When clients discuss their social anxiety with me, they are often left with a sense of missing out, wondering what might have been, anger at not having pushed themselves and also feeling a failure because anxiety won out again.

In sessions we dig deep into the bag of evidence and ask:

  • Where’s the proof?
  • Did you fortune tell or have you got solid evidence that speaking to your boss, for instance, would end up badly for you?
  • Is that thought you have your own thought or someone else’s opinion/ expectation of you?
  • Whose voice is it saying it to you?

Counselling can build up your confidence to question your thoughts, analyse your behaviours and look at what your goals are, regardless of the modality of your therapist. Social anxiety can be tackled and it does not have to be debilitating and you do not need to put your life on hold for your anxiety. If it’s present then it’s telling you things need to change in order for you to become who you want to be; by engaging in how you feel and challenging that, then you can start to feel relief and get yourself on the path that’s right for you. It will take effort and you will struggle some days more than others, but is to be expected because you are relearning how to be you again and that takes time.


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