By Mimansa Singh
“I realized that I have been struggling for a longtime. I feel like being in my own shell and not being able to face or talk to people. It is very difficult you see, sometimes I am pushed by my family but they don’t understand that I get this very uncomfortable sensation in my belly even with the thought of talking to someone and being in larger groups, it is just killing.”
It is not a moment’s feeling but a constant noise in my head. People judging me about how do I look or what am I wearing; if I talk I might sound stupid and embarrassing or I could be a very uninteresting person. It’s difficult to be out there without this plaguing my mind. It’s like others are scanning you constantly and you want it to stop but have no control. I feel fearful, anxious and horrified when surrounded by people. I only feel safe when alone and relieved with the lack of acknowledgement of my existence.”
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
We all experience a fleeting moment of fear of being judged or undergoing scrutiny by people whether prior to a stage performance, work presentation or interview, but we are able to surpass it by putting together our confidence and belief. But for some it’s a painful challenge. Social Anxiety disorder (Social Phobia) as defined by DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistic Manual) is the persistent fear of one or more social situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she could act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating. The anxiety can be quite agonizing for an individual, be it going to school, work or public spaces and can at times present as an episode of intense anxiety in the form of breathless, sweating and feeling dizzy or trembling.
Social Anxiety is a disorder which is quite common.
The causes are both chemical imbalances and psychological factors but, the triggers may differ for individuals.
For some it may be instigated by talking to unfamiliar people, public speaking, or initiating relationships. In case of children, they find difficult to initiate peer talks and maintain friendships as they lack appropriate social skills. Bullying experiences can also be a significant trigger for social anxiety among children.
Social anxiety is often not diagnosed for a long time as individuals find it extremely difficult to share his feelings and emotion. Well, how can they express as that’s what they are fighting within? The inability to take the step to talk to someone and consequently the fear of being rejected or being seen differently, hampers them. This then becomes a vicious cycle.
We all see that one person sometimes sitting in the corner of the classroom or office, just working and making bare minimum social contact. We often make our own interpretations and reach conclusions of his/her lone image but rarely do we realize it is not by choice.
Hence, it is important to understand that taking that first step to talk is very important, it could be someone close or a mental health expert.
How Can I Manage Social Anxiety
Evaluate your negative thoughts: The haunting thought of people thinking negative about you all the time, it’s time that you test it. “What makes me feel, I am in competent; what makes me doubt that I can come across stupid in a conversation”. When is the last time that it actually happened? It can be difficult but important to understand why you think like this about yourself.
Take small systematic steps: Set small goals for yourself to engage in social interactions. Like defining “let me initiate and sustain a conversation for 5 minutes with one person today and reward yourself when you are able to achieve it.
Breathing exercise: Breathing exercises relax your body and make you feel relaxed from the anxious feeling. Do it before approaching a person, making a presentation or stage performance.
Focus your attention externally: Since these thoughts make it very difficult to actually focus on the conversation the other person is making, one need to make the effort to gradually and slowly shift attention externally. Focus on the other person, the conversation and try to listen attentively.
Let go of the need for perfection: if we actually reflect, we are often tangling ourselves in the ideal image of being perfect.
The pressure to use the perfect words, behave perfectly or look perfectly can create unrealistic expectations, while we constantly compare ourselves with others.
Be yourself as that is real, genuine and will eventually be comforting.
Make realistic positive self-statements: I can be anxious and I can still talk, I cannot change what others think about me but I can surely change how I think and feel about myself.
Embrace yourself: Acknowledge and embrace the compliments or positive comments that people give you. Don’t shrug them off thinking he/she must be lying. It’s time we work on our long held self beliefs which have not been helpful.
Seek professional help: Despite making small steps from your end, you might still struggle with feeling anxious in social scenarios.
Don’t hesitate to seek help from a psychiatrist or a psychologist, which may involve a comprehensive treatment package of pharmacotherapy and counseling services which eventually results in good results.
Cognitive behaviour therapy has shown enough evidence in effective treatment of social anxiety disorder.
Editorial Note: If you would like to read more mental health and psychology hacks, then do check out our section on Mental Health Inspiration.
About the Author
Ms. Mimansa Singh Tanwar, is Clinical Psychologist and the Coordinator of the Fortis School Mental Health and Clinical Psychology Program with the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences. She has been practicing in the field of Psychology for the last 8 years and has been integrally involved in working with children and adolescents.
Her passion is in working towards enhancing the mental health of school aged children. She has been also been conducting numerous workshops and seminars over the years with students, teachers and parents. She also conducts workshops in corporate on lifestyle and stress related issues and has keen interest qualitatively working towards mental well-being in organizations. Through media she has been working towards making Mental Health a priority for the young members of our society.