Understanding Social Anxiety — And How to Cope
Most people get some level of social nervousness from time to time — maybe you’re meeting your partner’s parents or you’re heading to your first day of work. Feeling uneasy in these situations doesn’t necessarily mean you have social anxiety, though.
Instead, social anxiety is marked by a persistent feeling of apprehension which lasts well after any single event and gets in the way of your life. It’s a big deal. And if you think you might be living with it, getting treatment can go a long way.
Social anxiety 101
This type of anxiety disorder means you feel excessive worry and nervousness — maybe even dread — around social or performance situations. This kind of anxiety manifests as a deep fear that the people around you are watching and judging you.
In other words, it’s not just shyness. Social anxiety means you endure heavy feelings whenever you’re heading into social situations. You might avoid certain things or even shirk responsibilities to avoid activating your symptoms of anxiety.
Some of the other hallmarks of this condition can manifest when you’re in a social situation. For example, you might:
- Feel your heart rate speed up
- Feel ill
- Feel at a loss for words
- Use a softer-than-normal voice
- Tense up
- Fear of being judged
Does this sound familiar? If so, start tracking how often you feel this way and what kinds of scenarios bring on your symptoms.
If you notice these indicators sticking around for six months or more — and especially if wanting to avoid them prevents you from doing certain things — you may have social anxiety.
Social anxiety is treatable
Yep. Just like a headache or tendonitis, social anxiety is a treatable medical condition.
You can start by talking to your doctor. General care practitioners usually have some training in mental health, but may also refer you to a specialist.
Or you can go see a therapist directly to help you find an effective treatment plan. Social anxiety disorder is a super common condition — it affects about 15 million Americans — so mental health counselors are well-equipped to help.
In fact, your therapist can help you learn new ways of thinking and show you how to practice social skills during your sessions.
You might also ask your counselor about behavioral therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). With this approach, you stop trying to deny your feelings of social anxiety and instead learn to accept them — even as you learn how to stop them from holding you back.
Your mental health professional might recommend other supports too, like medication, a treatment program, or a support group, depending on what works for you.
Let’s recap. Social anxiety is more than shyness or feeling nervous before a big party. It’s a treatable mental health condition. And if the symptoms we outlined sound familiar and keep you from living your fullest life, talking to an expert can probably help.
Not sure what to expect during a therapy session? In our Mental Health Monday blog next week, we’ll go over what your first steps to recovery may look like.