Social anxiety: An introduction

“We are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens”

Greek philosopher Epictetus

For anyone suffering with anxiety, you could also add “or what might happen” to the end of the above quote.

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, describes the fear, nervousness and apprehension in relationships you have with other people. We all feel a degree of this, and that’s normal. But in social anxiety disorder, the intensity of the symptoms are far higher, leading to a significant impact on your life.

If you have social anxiety disorder, you get anxious when you think you might do something that will be humiliating or embarrassing. You think other people are judging you. And that they judge you in a negative way. You fear you might do something humiliating or embarrassing. This fear is inhibiting. It makes you self-aware. And because your mind focuses on these possible outcomes, you might even do something which is embarrassing, but more often than not, you don’t. However, this fear, leads to a downward cycle of avoidance and more anxiety when you interact with other people.

If you suffer with social anxiety, you tend to assume, that when you interact with other people, this will be painfully revealing. You fear others might notice your weaknesses, or awkwardness, or that you will be rejected, or dismissed, or ignored, or criticised. You fear you are not behaving in an acceptable way.

This perception of social situations makes it hard for you to be normal, to act naturally, to talk normally, or even to make friends. This can lead to isolation and loneliness.

If you have social anxiety, some of the unfortunate consequences can be:

  • dropping out of school,
  • not pursuing careers you are capable of,
  • difficulties at work, or in your personal life,
  • lack of intimate relationships, or finding someone to share your life with.

Sometimes, you might not even be aware you have this condition. Or, you become aware of it later in life, perhaps in your 40s and 50s. This means you have suffered with the effects of social anxiety for all these years. And, there is a good chance it could have been prevented, with the appropriate help.

Someone with social anxiety can have many positive things about them like being friendly, or having a sense of fun, or being serious, or lively, or amusing, or kind or the ability to behave in a spontaneous way. BUT, feeling at ease with other people is hard if you have social anxiety. So it hides these good things about you, from view. And because these good things about you are hidden from view, over time, you can lose your belief and confidence in these worthy aspects of yourself.

One of the great benefits of learning to overcome social anxiety is that it allows you to express yourself, enjoy being yourself, and to rediscover yourself.

Take care,

Paul

Paul at Coniston Water, Lake District, UK.
Dr Paul Ogilvie