How To Know If You Have Social Anxiety
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 23, 2019
Reviewer Erika Schad, LCP, CWLC
You agreed to go to a party with your best friend, but as the hour approaches, you find yourself getting restless. You're increasingly becoming irritated and inexplicably angry at everything and everyone. You think to yourself, "How could she put me through this? She knows I hate groups of people and small talk with strangers!" Then, at the last minute, you call and cancel and the feelings of relief wash over you. And although you begin to experience relief, you begin to feel a little shame and guilt too. If this sounds familiar, read on. You might be battling more than simple introversion - here's how to know if you have social anxiety as well.
How to Know If You Have Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is anxiety that is triggered by social situations. While most people might feel a little shy walking into a situation where they don't know anyone or standing before a group of people to give a presentation, social anxiety goes a little deeper. It's the fear of others judging you and viewing you in a negative light. Believing that this is what will inevitably happen. This fear can make someone with social anxiety feel extremely self-conscious, inferior and uncomfortable to an alarming degree. It may also lead to panic attacks. While most people probably tend to think of social situations where it would arise as being at a party or giving a speech, it can also be triggered by other social situations such as:
- Meeting a close friend for coffee
- Attending a job interview
- Talking on the phone
- Sending an email
- Any public speaking
- Answering a question in class
- Writing your name in a public record or on the board
- Speaking with customer service representatives, either in person at a store or on the phone
Anxiety presents itself differently to different people, which can make it difficult to identify. For some people, anxiety can result in full-blown panic attacks. For others, it can mean self-medicating by drinking to calm their nerves or simply withdrawing from situations in which they may feel uncomfortable. For still others, anxiety may come only as an intense feeling of fear or unease on the inside, while appearing calm, cool, and collected on the outside. Additionally, Social Anxiety has also been associated with certain information processing biases, including the tendency to attend selectively to socially threatening situations and overestimate the likelihood for negative outcomes in social situations (Heinrichs & Hofman, 2001).
If you experience any of these symptoms when presented with a social situation, you may have social anxiety:
- Intense fear
- Upset stomach
- Frequent urge to urinate
- An intense feeling of dread
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Hot/cold flashes
How to Deal if You Have Social Anxiety
Depending on the severity of your social anxiety, you may choose to deal with it in some ways.
- Get some help. One of the most helpful ways to tackle your anxiety is to meet with a counselor who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is a present-focused therapy that examines the things we tell ourselves that then lead us to behave in certain ways. For example, if you walk up to introduce yourself to a person thinking, "this person is never going to like me," it would be helpful to take a look at that thought. Where did it come from? Is it true? A CBT therapist will help you to find, categorize and examine these thoughts so that they can be replaced with more helpful, realistic ones. Such as, "I look forward to sharing my thoughts with this new person that I'm meeting. They do not know me yet, but I am sure we will get along great." See the difference? What we tell ourselves isn't always accurate, and a CBT therapist can help you to increase your self-awareness so that you can change the way you think beneficially.
- Positive self-talk. Once you've learned how to identify the negative thoughts, you will be able to better recognize the situations which can trigger your discomfort and intentionally put yourself in them to desensitize yourself. As you prepare to face a social situation use self-talk such as, "I know you can do this," "It feels scary but that's my brain deceiving me," or "The more I do this, the easier it will be." Afterward, reflect on your experience to see that it was not as terrible as you expected it to be. As you build up more positive experiences, you will have more to draw from going forward, and it will help you to feel less anxious in advance of social events.
- Practice. The more you put yourself in situations that would normally produce feelings of social anxiety, and practice the techniques you learn to deal with them, the less intimidating the situations will be. This is referred to as "exposure." You try something and realize it isn't as big a deal or as scary as you make it out to be in your head, so you are less afraid the next time. The more you bank these interactions and reflect on them, the more evidence you will that you can survive these experiences!
- Meditate. Meditation has become a wonderful method for many to gain more peace and serenity in their life. The more you practice the mindfulness and deep-breathing that meditation promotes, the more you will be able to utilize this sense of calm in everyday situations. You can call upon your new skills before any typically anxiety-provoking situations.
- Remind yourself that it's not just you. Tons of people feel nervous in social situations. It may not be social anxiety, exactly, that they are dealing with, but they still know what it's like to feel intimidated and nervous around others. And these same people are then spending more time worrying more about themselves than they are judging you.
- Talk to your doctor. There are many types of anti-anxiety medications on the market today. If you feel like your social anxiety interferes with your quality of life and are not able to overcome it on your own, talk to your doctor about your medical options.
Now that you have read this article and are more aware of what it takes to combat social anxiety be sure to check out Betterhelp.com. Better Help offers counselors who practice all types of counseling, such as CBT. And many other forms of therapy are helpful in tackling all types of anxiety. It's a great place to start because you don't even have to leave the comfort and safety of your home if you don't want to! Their counselors can all do wonders to work with you to develop coping skills and help you get your life back.
It's time to free yourself from your social anxiety. You can do it - get started today!