Do you usually feel apprehensive around others due to fear of possible embarrassment? Do you develop sweaty palms, shaky legs or feel you have butterflies in your stomach when called up to speak before an audience? Do you feel others are constantly scrutinizing your every move with a view that’s critical of you? If so, you are not alone. You have lots of company.
In the United States alone, about 40 million American adults suffer from various forms of anxiety disorders, with over 15 million adults suffering from social anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). The problem affects men equally as it does women. If left untreated, it could adversely affect the quality of life for social anxiety sufferers. But what exactly is social anxiety?
Social Anxiety: Is it the same as shyness?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes social anxiety as a condition where the sufferer experiences extreme and persistent fear in social settings or situations involving performance evaluation or scrutiny by unfamiliar people. The sufferer usually fears that his or her actions will be viewed as awkward, leading to possible embarrassment or humiliation. Due to this intense fear, social anxiety disorder sufferers usually avoid social gatherings.
This intense anxiety can be triggered by a wide range of situations, leading to feelings of uneasiness. The anxiety is usually heightened in the workplace, in the school environment and around persons of the opposite sex or when meeting strangers.
Extremely introverted persons may feel uneasy being in public view, but the level of distress is nothing compared to social anxiety. This does not necessarily result in stress for them and may sometimes be “viewed positively”, according to The Huffington Post. The level of avoidance is usually greater in social anxiety disorders than in shyness.
People suffering from social anxiety are often shy. However, not all shy persons exhibit symptoms of true social anxiety that could be diagnosed by a psychotherapist. Everyone experiences shyness in some stages of life and many have got past it. It is to be noted that some extremely shy people may be “okay” with being shy. Their lives and relationships are not negatively impacted by their condition. Conversely, social anxiety sufferers may get depressed as a result of being trapped in this condition.
What can sufferers do?
That being said, what can a sufferer of social anxiety disorder do in order to lead their everyday life with less anxiety? If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety, then you may want to follow some of these time-proven tips to help you live a more outgoing life.
- Avoid substance abuse: Drugs and alcohol use increases anxiety. If you are dependent on any of these substances, attempting to quit on your own can trigger anxiety. It is advised that you seek the help of a psychiatrist or any other trained medical personnel.
- Keep your life organized: When you get things done on time, you feel less pressed for time and less anxious. Learning good time management skills will help you prioritize your life and reduce activities that drain your energy
- Don’t delay seeking for help: Social anxiety, as with other mental health disorders may become difficult to treat as it progresses. Treatment may involve medication or psychotherapy. Do not delay in seeking help!
- Do not isolate yourself: One of the easiest routes taken by social anxiety suffers is to avoid social gatherings. In order to overcome your anxiousness, you need to start accepting invitations to social gatherings and don’t worry, no one is actually “watching” you. People are generally more concerned about the grey hairs on their own head to even notice your imperfections. By the way, no one is perfect.
- Avoid negative people: Surrounding yourself with positive people will help increase your confidence level. Positive people will usually see the good in you and congratulate you on your efforts in spite of your circumstances. Chronically negative people, on the other hand, often find it easy to tear people down, resulting in embarrassment. Stay away from negative people when practical to do so.
- Reward your efforts: Whatever progress you are making towards your recovery needs to be rewarded. When you make an effort to be present at a social occasion, you need to congratulate yourself. Rather than dwell on those times that you felt awkward or avoided the situation altogether, recognize your effort as a step in the right direction.
How Family members and others can help
Family members with “good intentions” may unwittingly try to minimize the condition of a loved one’s social anxiety by making statements like “You’ll be okay,” “You just need to calm your nerves,” or “If so-and-so can do it, you can also.” These statements only help to increase the depth of frustrations felt by the sufferer.
Family members can do well to encourage the social anxiety sufferer to seek therapy and counseling. Due to shyness, social anxiety sufferers usually feel embarrassed talking about their condition. They may refuse to seek help from a mental health professional. You need to assure them that you understand their condition, and are interested in seeing them breaking free from this “vicious cycle.” The good news is, social anxiety is treatable. If you believe that you or a loved one are suffering from social anxiety, the wise course of action is to set up an appointment with a psychotherapist experienced in treating anxiety disorders.