Defining social anxiety

Social anxiety is a mental health condition characterised by intense fear in social situations. People with social anxiety may feel excessively self-conscious, anxious, or shy in situations where others are present. They may also experience physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, or nausea. Many people with social anxiety feel overwhelmed and embarrassed by their fears and worry that they will say or do the wrong thing. Social anxiety can be extremely impairing and can lead to problems in school, work, and relationships.

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Social anxiety disorder is relatively common, with some studies showing that about 18% of people experience this condition at some point in their life. It can occur at any age but is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and adolescence. It is estimated that the male to female ratio for social anxiety disorder is about 2:1, and the lifetime prevalence rate is about 4.1% among women and 5.8% among men.


Symptoms of social anxiety

Social anxiety can cause significant distress and impairment in social, occupational, and other areas of functioning. It is characterised by feelings of fear and anxiety in social situations where there is the potential for negative evaluation by others.

The symptoms of social anxiety can vary from person to person but may include shyness, fear of public speaking, avoidance of social situations, blushing, sweating, nausea, or racing heart. For some people, social anxiety can be debilitating and interfere with their ability to participate in everyday activities.

People with a social anxiety disorder may worry for days or weeks before an event where they will be around other people. Social anxiety disorder is not the same as shyness, which is a general tendency to feel self-conscious or embarrassed in social situations. Instead, symptoms of social anxiety disorder are intense and long-lasting, and the anxiety usually occurs only when people are in certain types of situations.

Symptoms of social anxiety can include

  • avoiding social situations due to fear of being embarrassed
  • being extremely self-conscious about one's appearance
  • fearing that one is not good enough or does not have the skills to do something
  • feeling embarrassed, humiliated, uncomfortable, or confused about what to do in social situations
  • becoming too involved in a social situation and not being able to let go of the conversation
  • self-consciousness about one's conversational style and body language

Causes of social anxiety

While the cause of social anxiety disorder is not entirely understood, it's believed to be caused by genetics and the environment. Research suggests that many different factors can affect a person's social anxiety. Therefore, treatment of social anxiety disorder may include medication, counselling or both.

The proper treatment type depends on many different factors, including your age and what symptoms you have. Medication may include medications used to treat depression, such as antidepressants and specific medications to treat anxiety disorders.


How to deal with social anxiety

People with social anxiety disorder may worry for days or weeks leading up to a social event and experience intense fear and avoidance of socialising altogether. However, whereas it can be debilitating, there are ways to manage it.

Here are some tips for coping with social anxiety:

Practice self-compassion

When you're feeling down about yourself, it's tough to feel confident in social settings. So give yourself some compassion instead; tell yourself that everyone feels shy sometimes and that you're just trying your best.

Face your fears head-on

If you avoid socialising altogether, you'll never get better at it. If you're stuck in the past and can't stop thinking about a particular social situation, gently confront your fear.

Go over your past social experiences and ask yourself: What did I do well? How could I have improved? What did I do that was embarrassing? You may be surprised to find that you don't have to be perfect to succeed. It's OK to admit that you can't do something, and it's OK not to do something perfectly.

Give yourself some credit for trying

If you've tried but don't want to socialise, don't get down on yourself for not being able to do it perfectly.

Be your own cheerleader

When you're having a bad day, think about all the good things you have going for you. Think about all the people who love and support you. Think about all the reasons why you should be proud of yourself.


Counselling for social anxiety 

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can make it difficult to interact with others. People with social anxiety may feel anxious or uncomfortable in social situations and fear being judged or embarrassed.

Counselling can be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder. Counsellors can help people learn how to manage their anxiety, build confidence, and develop better social skills. The goal of counselling for social anxiety is to help people develop healthier ways of interacting with others.

Hope Therapy & Counselling Services have a team of experienced and fully qualified counsellors with significant experience working with social anxiety. If you or a loved one is struggling, get in touch to learn more about what we can do to support you.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
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Written by Ian Stockbridge, BSc. (CBT), PGCert (Clinical Supervision), BACP (Accred)
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency'was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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