Many of us get shy from time to time, particularly in scenarios with lots of new people, but for some the anxiety of social situations can be crippling. If you've wondered "do I have social anxiety?" you should first read up on the common symptoms and then speak with your doctor for a formal diagnosis and advice on your treatment options.
Social anxiety, also often referred to as social phobia, is a fear of situations which require interaction with others.
Those with social anxiety often feel that they are being judged negatively by others and experience a variety of mental and physical symptoms as a result of this fear.
Some people simply prefer to spend their time alone or to socialize in smaller groups of people, and certain social situations may feel very unappealing to them. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have social anxiety. It is the intense fear of social situations which differentiates social anxiety from introversion or shyness.
If you struggle to cope with social interactions to the degree that it is impacting your work, social life or ability to complete normal daily activities, it could be possible that you have social anxiety. If you experience panic attacks or other physical symptoms during or at the prospect of social interactions, social anxiety could be the problem.
Doctors may recommend a range of treatments for social anxiety.
This type of therapy helps patients to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and change them for positive ones. It can help patients to cope better with social situations with less fear.
Medications, particularly SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) can help to alleviate chronic anxiety and panic. These types of medications aren't without side effects and it may take time to find a prescription which provides the best results.
This type of therapy has patients talking through past events to establish factors that have influenced or contributed to social anxiety. This information can make it easier to overcome the anxiety.
The prospect of undergoing treatments such as therapy and medication, or even the process of visiting your doctor, may seem like very daunting tasks for people with social anxiety.
Instead, there are a few ways you may help to alleviate social anxiety on your own. These won't necessarily cure the social anxiety but they may help you to manage it adequately enough that it doesn't have as much of an impact on your daily life. They may also help to prepare you for seeking further treatment.
By getting to grips with the factors that cause you most anxiety, you might be able to understand the biggest problems you need to tackle first. You could keep a journal to note down periods of high anxiety along with some context on the situation and your feelings at the time. You can then look for patterns or recurring fears.
Sometimes our minds can race with worries about past or upcoming social situations. Often, these are irrational. Think about the facts of the situation, try to rationalize it, and assess whether you're thinking the worst.
Social anxiety often causes us to worry about what others think of us, leaving us feeling distracted from the actual conversations happening around us. By really focusing on what others are saying, you can distract yourself from these worries and you'll likely be seen as far more attentive as a happy side effect.
Although it's tough, facing your fears can be extremely helpful in overcoming social anxiety. You can begin with very small things and work up to the situations which daunt you most.
For example, if you struggle to strike up conversations with people you don't know well, perhaps you could make an effort to chat to a colleague in the lunch room rather than staying at your desk. This could then lead up to going to work social occasions or office parties, situations that you may usually avoid.