Social anxiety

Social Anxiety

Some of us shine in the spotlight. Some of us can think of nothing worse. The world is full of extroverts and introverts. Show offs and the shy and retiring. But if you’re finding that you dread or avoid social situations because they make you feel uncomfortable, there could be something else going on. Social Anxiety – or as it’s sometimes called, Social Phobia.

Some estimates say about 12% of us have this condition. That’s the best part of a billion people globally. Imagine that. Symptoms can range from blushing, sweating and stammering to feeling shaky, sick or full-blown panic. You might feel self-conscious, concerned you’re being judged or afraid you might embarrass yourself in some way.

These feelings can be triggered by all kinds of interactions, be it at school, at work or out with friends. Sometimes the very thought of having to meet someone new or deal with an unfamiliar situation is enough. In the moment, you might find it tough to relax because you become hyper vigilant.  Afterwards, you might find yourself playing things back in your mind and become overly self-critical. Sound familiar?

As with all mental health issues, everyone may experience some of these symptoms from time to time. We’re all human. But we’re all different too. And because we’re all different, we all feel and experience things in different ways and to varying degrees of intensity. This doesn’t make you wrong. This doesn’t make you weird. It probably means you have a genuine mental health condition. It means you need help. If it stands in the way of living your everyday life, it’s certainly the case.

The good news is that there’s all kinds of help at hand.

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – is usually the first stop on your journey. This could involve becoming more mindful of the negative thoughts that bubble up when you’re triggered. You know, the ones that start ‘People will think…’, ‘…I’m stupid’; ‘…I’m boring’; ‘…I’m a freak’. Challenging these thoughts, engaging with them, will help you to question them. It will make you more aware when you slip into self-defeating behaviours like ‘catastrophising’ and ‘mind-reading’.

Awareness can be a powerful tool. If you learn to focus your attention on others and be ‘in the moment’, in time, this will help you feel less self-conscious. Listening to what’s going on will take your focus away from your anxieties and empower you to engage.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is another approach you might find beneficial. This involves noticing and accepting the negative feelings which rise up in you and shifting your perspective. Don’t fight it. Don’t feel it. Accept it.

There are changes you can make to your lifestyle too. Getting active and joining a gym. Cutting out stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Improving diet and sleep patterns. All of these things can help reduce all-round anxiety levels.

The important thing is to reach out. Don’t be on your own. As our community builds, you can plug into advice from people who’ve been there. You can also post your own lived experience. This is incredibly valuable – all the more so when you share it.

We’ll be with you all the way. Don’t make yourself wrong – find the right help. Ask AIME. Be part of our community. Together, we can all know better.