The truth about social anxiety?

What does the term “social anxiety” really mean? Why do we experience it? What can we do to reduce the symptoms of it? 

To define the term “social anxiety”, let’s look at different situations that cause this form of anxiety. 

Situation 1. Formal public speaking. It can be a presentation for work or performing on a stage.

Situation 2. Informal speaking. It can be meeting strangers or asking someone out on a date. 

Situation 3. Expressing disagreement. It can be resisting pressure from someone else.

Situation 4. Anxiety when someone observes us while we are eating, writing, exercising, etc. 

Think about it for a moment: what is the one key element that plays part in all of these situations? If you said “interaction with other people”, you are not 100% wrong. However, not in all situations which include other people you experience social anxiety. 

Social anxiety occurs in situations where a crucial element is other people evaluating you.

This discovery partially answers our next question: why do we experience social anxiety?

Causes of social anxiety.

As already mentioned, we experience social anxiety in situations where other people evaluate us. Therefore, we fear other people’s reactions. We fear being judged. Furthermore, we fear embarrassment. Another cause of social anxiety is approval-seeking behaviour. We want others to approve of what we do and/or to fit in. 

Based on the information provided above, it can be concluded that people, who care a lot about other people’s opinions and take them very seriously, experience social anxiety. If a person couldn’t care less about how others perceive them or what they think, they don’t experience it.  

Symptoms of social anxiety.

These can be both mental and physical. The symptoms are almost the same as for other forms of anxiety. These include: 

  • Dwelling on horrible thoughts about what may happen in a potential situation. For example, before you give a presentation you keep thinking about how unprepared you are, that you may fall or mix up your text in front of everyone. 
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Sweaty palms.
  • Nausea. 

How to cope with social anxiety symptoms or treat anxiety? 

The first step is to let go of your approval-seeking behaviour and work on your self-esteem. Accepting yourself, loving yourself, and recognising that only your opinion of yourself matters. For how to build your self-esteem, check out this blog post. 

Other steps that you can take to cope with anxiety symptoms.

  • Do journaling. Log your triggers, quality of sleep, level of exercise, and your mood daily as a part of your healing process + it allows you to observe your progress over time. My anxiety journal for adults can be purchased here. My anxiety journal for teens can be purchased here.
  • Mediate. Mediation does not have to be sitting on the floor with your legs crossed chanting “om”. There are different types of meditation and one of them is active meditation. It is about meditation in motion – focusing on the task at hand e.g. exercising, drawing, gardening. 

If your symptoms are severe and impact your ability to function and your daily life, seek professional help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. In fact, I encourage it. 

My final thoughts. 

Social anxiety is an issue that all of us experience at some point in our lives. When the focus of a situation is other people evaluating us, we get nervous. We are scared of their reactions or being judged. Social anxiety is closely connected to low self-esteem and approval-seeking behaviour. Therefore, to treat anxiety, building your self-esteem is a must. Not only that. It is also the first step in your healing journey.