Social anxiety can leave us feeling intensely fearful and awkward in, and of, social situations. It can have a massive impact on our day-to-day lives too and influence our interactions with other people, affecting relationships and sometimes too, our work. The anxiety often doesn’t end when the socialising ends either, we may find that we ruminate over things we’ve said or not said, things we did or didn’t do. There’s an acute sense of being judged, appearing rude, aloof or flaky, and of never really fitting in. We might find that we avoid social situations as much as possible which can lead to us feeling lonely and isolated. Where we can’t avoid the social situation, we might find that we constantly go over and over what we might do or say in response to certain situations and conversations. It’s exhausting.
There are loads of physical symptoms that we could encounter if we’re living with social anxiety. These could include things like feeling sick, sweating, having palpitations, blushing, shaking, feeling dizzy, feeling faint, and diarrhoea.
All these things can be due to anxiety putting our body in overdrive. These symptoms can feel embarrassing, and this embarrassment can increase our anxiety and make them even worse. It can be a vicious circle.
When we live with social anxiety, we can often feel gripped with fear. It can root us to the spot, cause us to tense up and might make it hard to move or speak. We might feel as though our heart is racing. Because we’re so tense, our muscles can begin to ache which can be really painful.
All of the ‘what ifs’ can swirl around our heads, tying us in knots. It can cause us to feel trapped and to panic.
Excessive self-consciousness can take hold, particularly when we are in social situations. We might live in baggy or dark coloured clothes to try and blend in. It can feel impossible to keep eye contact with the people we’re speaking to. We might find ourselves hiding behind our hair. Our speech can become quiet because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves or we might talk at the rate of knots because we feel so nervous. There are times when we might wish that we could just disappear. Often we are painfully aware of how much space we take up – both physically and with any noise or movements we make.
Upcoming social events can cause havoc with the social anxiety we experience. They can cause us to feel intense worry. This could range from worrying hours before an event to days, weeks, or even months. We could be worrying about anything and everything. What to wear, who might be there, what they might say. How we should respond. Whether we will look or say something inappropriate. Whether we’ll fit in. How we might get out of it. Whether we’ll be able to escape if we need to… it can be a never-ending list.
Because of the anxiety that social situations can bring up, we often avoid them. This can limit the things that we do feel able to take part in. It can mean that we miss out on events and get-togethers that we really want to go to. We might not see our friends or family as often as we’d like to. It’s not that we’re anti-social or dislike our loved ones, it’s just that the thought of social situations can make us feel so unwell that going to them feels impossible.
Social anxiety can cause us to have extremely negative thoughts about ourselves. Even if we receive 10 positive comments, and one mediocre comment, we will take the mediocre comment as a negative and run with it. We often have very low self-confidence and don’t think much of ourselves. We can feel like such a burden. Often we might think that people don’t really want us around and are just ‘putting up with us’. Conversations we’ve had can play on our mind for weeks on end as we wonder if we got it ‘right’, or if we said/did something silly. These negative thoughts can overwhelm any positives we might feel about ourselves. The more we think them, the lower our confidence sinks, the lower our confidence sinks, the more negative thoughts we have.
Safety behaviours can help us to manage social situations and help us to manage the symptoms of social anxiety. This could include things like making sure we always have someone with us. Knowing how we’ll get home. Choosing to spend less time in larger groups and preferring smaller gatherings. Wearing headphones to drown out the external noise. Some safety behaviours, like making sure we always have something in our pocket that we can fiddle with, can be really helpful. Others, like needing to rely on alcohol to manage certain occasions, might not be so helpful in the long-term.
Struggling To Do Things With Others Watching
Lots of us will find that we struggle to do things if there is anyone watching us. This could include things like making a phone call, eating lunch, or printing something at work. It could be the panic about walking into a venue on our own, putting our hand up to ask a question at an event, holding in a cough because we don’t want everyone to look our way, or needing the loo whilst on a train but not wanting to walk through so many people.
Social anxiety is so much more than ‘shyness’ and it’s typically where fear of social situations is long-lasting and disruptive. It’s a fairly common condition that starts to affect us in our teenage years and is treatable with the right help and support.
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