The struggle to get to hello - Tackling social anxiety
Many of us will recognise the uncomfortable anxious feeling meeting new people for the first time, or being asked to “say a few words” or to give a presentation. We may even describe ourselves as shy or introverted because we feel that we don’t speak up in public. We are anxious in that social situation. Yet for some clients with social anxiety the feelings are much more overwhelming than this. The fear is so intense that they avoid situations that put them in the firing line.
The fear can be so intense that any interaction such as socialising, using a phone, even just leaving the safety of the house might seem a trial. Sufferers of social anxiety experience excessive anxiety especially in unfamiliar situations where they feel that they may be watched and judged (negatively) by others. There is an overwhelming fear of public embarrassment or ridicule through a mistake or ignorance. The only defence seems to be avoidance.
While it may seem that this is an impossible trap to get out of, there are many things that can be done to help and to change the feelings surrounding social situations. As with so many things information is power and understanding more about what is driving the fear is a good first step. You may find it easier to work with a counsellor skilled in this area. They will not judge your fears or anxieties but will work with you to help you recover. Perhaps a useful thing to know is that this is quite a common condition (about 13% of the population). While every situation is different and different people will have different triggers for their anxiety in reality the condition is common and people do recover.
By control of your breathing you can help with the immediate effects of the anxiety. You do deep breaths, breathing in for a count of four, hold for two, then out for five. Slow deep breathing and this helps with the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Often we will be in a social situation and the situation will seem great, then suddenly a thought will occur and our whole view of the situation changes in a moment. We are thrown into mental turmoil perhaps feeling embarrassed or upset. Yet notice it is your interpretation not the situation that has made you anxious. You can challenge your interpretation. Was it as bad as you thought? What would you have thought if it happened to your best friend what would you have said to them? This process of challenging these unhelpful anxious thoughts can help.
Often with anxiety we are told to face our fear. While this will help you overcome your fear it is important that you do it in the right way. Again a counsellor can help you with this and they will be looking a progressive step by step program to build confidence. The important part is not to have a setback. So for example you may have dinner with a friend in your house, building to a restaurant, building to a special occasion. A slow progressive program to help you.
This is just a short example of the types of help that there is for social anxiety, so if you find that you are a sufferer don’t feel you have to hide away. Reach out for help and you will find it and the change that can help.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.