Social anxiety can involve the fear of acting in such a way around others that may cause judgment or a negative impression. Social anxiety disorder is a prevalent mental illness involving frequent social anxiety and fear of judgment. People with social anxiety disorder are often classified as shy, withdrawn, indifferent, or unfriendly. However, these stereotypes can take away from the core concept of the condition: the fear behind it and the behaviors that can follow.
If you lived with a fear of being judged, you might be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder. In these cases, it may be helpful to know how to cope with these symptoms and find hope for socialization.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Over 12.1% of US adults live with social anxiety disorder, an anxiety disorder listed in the DSM-5. Those with social anxiety disorder often live with extreme fear or worry of being judged by others and can find their daily life limited. They may desire to socialize in their personal life, but their thoughts may freeze when they try to speak in front of others, especially around strangers or in a new environment. They could also struggle to make eye contact in social situations.
Severe social anxiety may cause challenges in a professional or school environment, including one-on-one appraisals on knowledge, like an interview or test. Someone with social anxiety might feel devastated if teased or criticized or may interpret constructive criticism to the extreme. In addition, being the center of attention can prompt fear and exacerbate symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Due to these fears and the unpleasant experience of anxiety and its associations, people with social anxiety disorder may avoid situations that could cause anxiety responses and symptoms. As a result, they might miss opportunities to enrich their lives or be misunderstood by others. It may be helpful to note that people with social anxiety disorder often crave connection with other people. However, their symptoms and fears can make it challenging to do so.
Are Shy Children Living With Social Anxiety Disorder?
Some children feel ready to operate in a social environment away from their families by the time they go to school for the first time. However, other children experience extreme shyness, which may cause them to require more time to process their new surroundings. Children with shyness may sometimes be encouraged to socialize with patience.
However, children teased, shamed, or ridiculed for being shy may develop a social phobia, which can lead to social anxiety disorder. They might not have learned to adapt to a social environment outside their family unit and started to fear it. Child guidance counseling that includes preparing your shy child for events may help them overcome the fear of new or unique situations.
Note that having social anxiety is more than being "shy." Shyness is not a clinical diagnosis, but this trait can sometimes be a sign of social anxiety disorder. Not all shy children develop social anxiety, and not all people with social anxiety experience shyness as children. Adults who experience social anxiety for six months or more can qualify for a clinical diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.
Approaches To The Fear Of Being Judged
There are several approaches to addressing the fear of judgment that can come with social anxiety disorder, including the following.
Going To A Support Group
A support group may seem intimidating to those fearing social interactions. However, many public health organizations facilitate group therapy for individuals with social anxiety. Group therapy may be effective as a first step because a therapy group provides a safe, supportive environment to practice social interactions, cope with anxiety, and build confidence.
It can also be validating to listen to the experiences of others with social anxiety. You may find you're better at social interactions than you realize as you speak with others in the group. You may also form friendships that help you practice social interactions outside the therapeutic setting.
Challenging Your Thoughts
Challenging your thoughts through exercises like cognitive restructuring may help you reduce thoughts that others are negatively judging your values or criticizing your work. For example, you might acknowledge that others are people like you, preoccupied with their own problems and solutions. They may not be as focused on your behavior, vocal tone, or eye contact as you are.
Prepare Yourself For New Situations
Practicing realistic thinking might not prevent the panic you feel before an interview or the despair at the thought of attending a class reunion, as social anxiety disorder can have a biological component. For that reason, a multi-faceted approach can help you teach your body relaxation and gain the tools to experience success and confidence.
Prepare yourself 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. For example, you can practice an interview in front of a friend or family member before it occurs.
Meditate Or Practice Mindfulness
Some people find value in meditating or mindfulness practice before attending an appointment, interview, or social function that causes anxiety. To start, try a few breathing exercises, listen to music, schedule a physical workout, shower, or use another technique that helps you relax. A guided meditation app can give you ideas if you're unfamiliar with standard practices.
Other effective relaxation tools may include progressive muscle relaxation and visualization. With practice, these methods may train your nervous system and body's anxiety response to slow down, giving you the confidence to handle anxiety when it arises.
What Can You Do With A Fear Of Public Speaking?
When living with social anxiety disorder, the fear of being judged can interfere with your academic and career performance. It might hinder your ability to speak in public and could make social gatherings awkward. If your anxiety is severe, you might avoid academic and professional pursuits altogether, leading you to miss out on an opportunity.
If you have had social anxiety since early childhood and fear public speaking, you may start by learning about socialization, especially if you haven't had many positive social experiences. When social anxiety disorder becomes so extreme that it impacts many aspects of your life or causes depression, consider speaking to a mental health professional for support.
In severe cases, a licensed medical professional may be able to provide medical support, including medication used to treat anxiety disorders or immediate panic. However, consult a licensed mental health professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan before starting, changing, or stopping a medication.
Professional Support Options
Studies show that people who experience complex emotions related to social phobia can benefit from the support of online therapy, as it removes some social treatment barriers. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on people living with social anxiety disorder and social phobia were examined.
Treatment involved a nine-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. These improvements were sustained at a five-year follow-up. These results can show how online therapy gives social agency to individuals. For example, you can choose between phone, video, or chat sessions with an online therapy platform.
If you're experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, you may not feel comfortable meeting face-to-face to talk with a therapist. Through an online platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy treatment from home. Some online platforms offer 24/7 messaging with your therapist, allowing you to ask questions outside of sessions and bring up points you felt nervous to mention during therapy.
If you live with excessive fear of social interactions or have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, consider working with a mental health professional experienced in treating this condition. A counselor can help you to become aware of the link between your thoughts, anxiety response, and resulting behaviors to interrupt the anxious cycle and interact with others in the ways you seek.
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