At first glance, it’s gonna sound like simple shyness but there’s so much more to this. It is really about how we function and sometimes can’t function in everyday settings. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, defines social anxiety disorder as causing individuals to fear acting in a certain way that might make them get judged, and it can cause anxiety that interferes with normal routine as well as their relationships. It is unclear what causes social anxiety disorder but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, like having a close relative with a social anxiety disorder or being exposed to neglect or abuse.
What’s more, is that fear or anxiety is persistent, lasting for 6 or more months. Usually, social anxiety disorder causes distress for individuals in specific social situations. For example, one person might get really anxious while making small talk with acquaintances, or meeting new people. Whereas another person might get performance anxiety, and not feel able to give a presentation or give a toast at a friend’s wedding. Social anxiety disorder is an egodystonic condition, meaning people who have the disorder usually understand that their anxiety is unwarranted. But, unfortunately, that awareness can cause more anxiety, because they’ll fear others can tell how anxious they are. Sometimes individuals might worry that they may be having physical symptoms like trembling or blushing that others might notice and judge them for. Sometimes the anxiety can get so severe that it can cause something called derealization, meaning that a person might feel ‘Stressed out’ and be less able to recognize their surroundings. In order to reduce their social inhibitions, some people with social anxiety use drugs and alcohol, and that can lead to dependency and addiction. People with social anxiety experience a number of typical physical symptoms like blushing, increased heart rate, sweating, mind going blank, difficulty concentrating, urge to use the toilet, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, urge to escape or leave, etc.
As a result of their fears, a person with social anxiety may do a number of things to try to prevent the negative evaluation from happening. These may include:
• Avoiding the situation altogether
• Avoiding similar sorts of situations
• Leaving prematurely
• Focusing on yourself
• Trying not to draw attention to yourself
• Keeping quiet
• Not looking at other people
The DSM-5 states that in order to make a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, the fear or avoidance shouldn’t be due to the effect of a medication or due to another condition.
That’s important because there are key features of social anxiety disorder that overlap with other conditions.
Fortunately, there are some effective strategies to overcome shyness and social anxiety and gain confidence:
• Act confidently. Confidence comes through action, learning, practice, and mastery. Eliminate avoidance and you will overcome your anxiety.
• Do something to get out of your comfort zone. By practicing new activities, you confront your fear of the unknown and learn to handle your anxiety more effectively.
• Keep a daily journal so that you can see how much you have improved. Self-help manuals are designed to supplement therapy, but they’re also good tools for working on your own.
• Engage in deep breathing before an anxiety-provoking social situation. This way you don’t hyperfocus on deep breathing and miss an entire conversation.
• Exercise on a regular basis (including cardiovascular exercise and weight training) and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
• Take some chances and put yourself out there to meet new people. Participate in small talk in the checkout line and at times, talk to random strangers at bars, stores, and the gym.
• Do your best to stay away from alcohol.4 Drink chamomile tea to soothe your nerves.
• If you haven’t had much success with self-help, seek professional help. Find a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders.
If social anxiety is sabotaging your goals and stopping you from living the life you want, seek help, and try the above strategies. Social anxiety is highly treatable. You can get better, and grow in the process.
Jasmine Mary Ekka is a passionate digital nomad doing a major in English, a word connoisseur who loves writing about raging issues, social change, and career conundrums.