What Can You Do If You Live In Fear Of Being Judged?
Social anxiety has to do with the fear of acting in such a way in a social situation that others will judge or develop a negative impression of you. Social anxiety disorder is a prevalent mental illness with many symptoms that can be addressed through online therapy, yet there is much about it that is misunderstood. People with a social anxiety disorder are commonly classified as being shy, withdrawn, indifferent, and even unfriendly; but, there is much more going on for that person than these preconceived notions suggest.
Those with a social anxiety disorder who live with excessive fear or worry of being judged by others in social situations can find it very limiting in their daily life. They would like to socialize in their personal life, but their negative thoughts may freeze when they try to speak in front of others, especially around strangers or in a new environment. They may not be able to make eye contact in social situations. Individuals living with a social anxiety disorder may hang on to just two or three "special" friends they feel secure with, who do not mind that sometimes they fall into long silences or don’t always make eye contact. They may not be able to control their stage fright, no matter how well they have practiced their lines. People with social anxiety may have a very difficult time with people watching them work in their professional life. They may do poorly in classroom environments that include one-on-one appraisals of their degree of knowledge, or a job interview or audition may go poorly as a result of the feelings of anxiety present. They can become devastated if they are teased or criticized, and they may interpret constructive criticism in the extreme. Becoming the center of attention can paralyze them with fear and exacerbate symptoms of their social anxiety disorder. Due to these fears and the extremely unpleasant experience of anxiety and its associations with it, people with a social anxiety disorder tend to avoid situations that could trigger the anxiety response and symptoms. As a result, they miss opportunities to enrich their lives in many ways.
People with a social anxiety disorder do not crave connection with other people any less; in fact, many desperately want to be social and to have friends but their anxiety symptoms make it very hard to do so.
The Shy Child
The average child usually is ready to adapt in a social environment away from their family by age six, but there are always a few in every classroom who experience extreme shyness. They need more time to process the strangeness. Children with shyness can be encouraged to come out of their shells, but it takes patience. Children who are teased, shamed, or ridiculed for being shy can grow up with social anxieties. They have not learned to adapt to a social environment outside of their family unit, only to fear it. Child guidance counseling that includes preparing your shy child for coming events can help them overcome the fear of new and strange things. It is important to note that having social anxiety is much more than being "shy.” Shyness is not a clinical diagnosis, but this trait can sometimes be linked to other mental health issues. Certainly, not all shy children develop social anxiety as adults; and, likewise, not all people with social anxiety experienced shyness as children. In fact, adults who experience social anxiety for six months or more can qualify for a clinical diagnosis of a social anxiety disorder.
Designing Your Own Therapy
There are different approaches to treating a social anxiety disorder. Ironically, one of the most effective is group therapy, which can seem very intimidating to those with a fear of social interactions. Many public health organizations facilitate group therapy for individuals living with anxiety. Group therapy is very effective as a first step because a therapy group provides a safe, supportive environment to practice social interactions, deal with anxiety that may arise, and build confidence. It can be validating to hear from other people that find you nice to interact with, or that they do not see your behavior as bizarre or inappropriate. You can discuss trending topics so you don’t have to think too much about what you should say. You may be better at social interactions than you realize. One of the first acknowledgments to be made is that the fears you feel are excessive and out of proportion or unrealistic. It is important to challenge thoughts you may have that everybody is sitting in negative judgment of your values or criticizing your work with more realistic thinking. For example, it can help to acknowledge that others are people, just like you, preoccupied with the latest trending topics, their own problems, and how to solve them. Practicing realistic thinking will not, in itself, prevent the panic you may feel before an interview or the complete despair at the thought of attending the class reunion. This is due to the biological component of social anxiety—your body's anxiety response going into overload. A multi-faceted approach is needed in order to teach your body relaxation and learn tools to be able to experience success and confidence in social situations.
Prepare yourself, just as you might have been prepared as a small child, to enter new environments and face new people and situations. Practice facing challenges in the safety of your home and among close friends.
It is also good to meditate or use other methods of relaxation before attending an appointment, interview, or social function that has you feeling anxious. Do a few breathing exercises, listen to some music, schedule a physical workout and shower, or another technique that you have found helps you relax. Other effective relaxation tools are progressive muscle relaxation (learning how to purposely tense and relax muscle groups) and visualization (creating a space in your mind that you go to readily to help you feel calm and secure). With practice, these methods can help train your body's anxiety response to calm much more quickly, giving you the confidence that you will be able to handle anxiety when it arises.
When living with a social anxiety disorder, the fear of being judged can interfere with your academic and career performance. It can handicap your ability to speak in public and make social gatherings painful and awkward or make you completely avoid doing these things. You may never go to that job interview to get that job you really want because your social anxiety is too strong preventing you from doing so. If you have had social anxiety since early childhood, you will have much new learning and practicing to do, as you likely have not had many positive social experiences. When a social anxiety disorder becomes so extreme it impacts many aspects of your life, or you’re experiencing symptoms of depression it may be time to seek professional help from a medical professional at a Public Health clinic.
In severe cases, a licensed medical professional may be able to provide selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are a common medication used to treat a variety of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, including a social anxiety disorder. However, it's important to consult with a licensed mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan before ever taking any medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Studies show that people who experience complex emotions related to social phobia (such as having a fear of judgement from others) can benefit from the support of online therapy. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy, on people living with social anxiety disorder and social phobia were examined. Treatment was a 9-week online CBT program. After treatment participants reported significant reductions in symptoms of social anxiety disorder, in addition to decreases in depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and an increase in overall quality of life. Notably, these improvements after treatment were sustained at a five-year follow-up. Cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment is a widely accepted form of counseling that helps individuals replace the negative thought processes underlying problematic behaviors and feelings, such as those attributed to social phobia or a social anxiety disorder.
As outlined above, online therapy platforms can give an individual living with a social anxiety disorder the resources and treatment to more confidently interact with others. If you’re already experiencing symptoms from a social anxiety disorder, you may not yet feel comfortable meeting face to face to talk with a therapist. With BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy treatment from the comfort of your home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to reach out to your counselor outside of sessions—if you need to discuss a certain topic, have a question, or just want to talk, send them a message, and they will get back to you as soon as possible. The licensed mental health experts at BetterHelp know how to help you connect with others and conquer your fear of being judged and find solutions to help you cope with a social anxiety disorder. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues.
“Melanie has been an excellent counselor and seen me through some of the hardest moments. She listens attentively and never makes me feel judged. She is an amazing therapist and I highly recommend her!”
“I feel Dr Bermudez leads me to see different perspectives for my problems. I like how easy it is to talk to her. She never makes me feel judged. She offers great insight into the deeper root behind conflicts. I feel she has a lot of experience as a counselor and I highly recommend her.”
A social anxiety disorder is treatable, and you do not need to accept a life that is limited by fear. You deserve the benefits of human connection, being able to talk to others and the positive results that come with interacting with others. If you live with excessive fear of social interactions, or social anxiety, you may be able to benefit greatly from working with a mental health professional who can help you cope with a social anxiety disorder. A counselor can help you to become aware of the link between your thoughts, anxiety response, and resulting behaviors so that you can interrupt the anxious cycle. You can learn to calm your body and mind in situations where you need it in order to do more of what it takes for you to strive for the things that are important to you.