What is social anxiety?
Anxiety comes in many forms. You may have heard of anxiety disorders like Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or anxiety-related disorders like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and phobias. Or, you may think of anxiety based on it's trigger – like health anxiety or social anxiety.
Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a form of anxiety that is present in social situations. Anyone with anxiety knows that this doesn't just mean social situations as they are occurring – you may be worrying about an upcoming social event, or replaying one from weeks ago, over and over.
Social anxiety is a common problem that often starts in adolescence. It may improve with age naturally, but some people may need extra support to overcome their anxiety symptoms.
If you are socially anxious, it's understandable that you might start to avoid your anxiety trigger, meaning that you might become withdrawn from friends, or struggle to interact with colleagues at work.
SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY
- preoccupation with social interactions
- high levels of self-consciousness in social situations
- holding back from socialising
- extreme nervousness about talking on the phone or in public
- feeling like you are being watched and judged all the time
BROADER SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
- feelings of irritability
- feelings of restlessness
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of dread
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY INCLUDE:
- heart palpitations
- tightness in the chest
- difficulty breathing
Many of the physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the production of adrenaline, which the body produces when we are in our fight-flight-freeze response. The adrenaline rushes through our system to mobilise our muscles for action. This produces the symptoms like a raised heart rate. Unfortunately this then triggers the release of further adrenaline, thus creating a vicious cycle. This is your 'sympathetic nervous system' working in overdrive.
You can manage anxiety by learning to soothe your nervous system and activating the 'parasympathetic nervous system'. Relaxation exercises like mindfulness body scans or breathwork are helpful to many people.
Try this simple breathwork exercise from founder of Breathpod Stuart Sandeman
With all types of anxiety, taking as best care of yourself as possible will help. Trying to keep to regular sleeping hours and eating nutritious food – as well as keeping an eye on caffeine and alcohol consumption – will support you in managing anxiety symptoms.
Many people, however, need further support with managing social anxiety. Counselling and psychotherapy can be a really useful space to explore your anxiety triggers as well as your anxiety symptoms.
If this is a long-term issue, you may want to work with a therapist who is trained in a more exploratory type of therapy, like psychodynamic psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, person-centred counselling or Gestalt therapy. If you are keen to establish coping strategies to manage symptoms directly you might like to try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
On Welldoing we have therapists who specialise in social anxiety.
Other support options
Last updated 18 April 2023