What is Social Anxiety, and How Can it Be Managed?

It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable in certain social situations. Perhaps you’re at a party where you don’t know anyone. Or, maybe you’re at a business event where you have to speak publicly. Feeling a bit anxious about these situations is perfectly normal. But, if the thought of either of them cripples you with fear, there may be something deeper going on. It may be linked to social anxiety.

Social anxiety is known as a disorder because it can completely take control of your life. You may be unable to interact in normal social situations. Even things as small as making eye contact can paralyze you with unriddled anxiety. It’s more common than you might think. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most popular phobias today. The good news about that? Because so many people struggle with it, there has been a lot of time spent in research, giving people the tools they need to overcome it.

Do I Have Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety tends to show up in specific situations. These situations can be different for everyone, and may bother some more than others. But, if you’ve ever found yourself feeling extremely anxious or afraid in any of the following scenarios, you may be dealing with this phobia:

Going on a date
Speaking in front of strangers
Going into a room with people
Eating in front of others
Attending functions with friends
Initiating conversations
Going to work

While these may seem like common, everyday occurrences to most people, they can feel like impossible tasks to those struggling with social anxieties. More often than not, anxiety stems from some type of fear in these instances. You might be worried about upsetting someone with what you have to say, or worry about being judged. While these fears may seem irrational on paper, they are very real to the person struggling with them.

The symptoms of social anxiety are much like those of any other type of attack, including things like a fever, raised heartbeat, dizziness, etc.

How Can it Affect Other Areas of Life?

Social anxiety doesn’t just creep up in certain situations and then go away. It can become so crippling that it starts to shift into other areas of your life. If not properly managed, it can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and even harmful thoughts. It doesn’t just ruin your social life, it can make every other aspect of your life start to crumble as well.

How Can it Be Managed?

Social anxiety has been treated with different medications and forms of psychotherapy. Therapy focuses on strategies you can use to change any harsh thoughts you may be having about yourself. It will also provide you with exercises and resources you can use in social situations, to help develop certain necessary skills.

By using cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of the best approaches used is to put yourself into the situations that cause you the most fear. You’ll gradually work up to these, of course, until that fear can be fully conquered.

Oftentimes, therapy and medication are done in a combination for more effective results.
If you feel you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder, you’re already on the right track toward getting help. Recognizing the signs and wanting to make a change is a huge first step forward in a condition that can absolutely be treated. You don’t have to live with this paralyzing fear of social situations forever.

Dr. Jeffrey Ditzel is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving Anxiety and Depression.