Social anxiety

What is social anxiety?

Most of us feel nervous or apprehensive in new social situations, whether it’s public speaking in front of a roomful of strangers, going to a social function where you don’t know anyone, or going on a first date. However for others, social or performance situations trigger an extreme fear of being scrutinised, judged or ridiculed by others. This is known as social anxiety or social phobia and may interfere significantly with sufferers’ day to day lives including work, education, family and social life. Both men and women are equally susceptible to this condition and it’s believed to develop during adolescence with 40% of social phobias occurring before the age of 10 and 95% of cases before the age of 20.1 In many cases, social anxiety begins with shyness in childhood and progresses during adolescence and into adulthood.2

What symptoms should I look out for?

A person with social anxiety usually fears and avoids a range of situations such as crowds and parties, public speaking, starting or having a conversation, talking to a large group, voicing opinions, dating, using public toilets, eating in public, talking on the phone in front of other people or even when having to speak to authority figures.2 When exposed to one of these feared social situations, sufferers’ of social anxiety may experience any of the following symptoms:2

  • Blushing
  • Trembling
  • Feeling as if they have nothing to say
  • Shallow fast breathing
  • Sweaty palms
  • Tense muscles
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Dry throat
  • Feelings of uncertainty and self‐doubt
  • Negative thoughts like feeling stupid, silly or ridiculous
  • Worrying that people will notice their physical symptoms like blushing, sweating or stammering
  • An overwhelming urge to leave the situation
  • Some sufferers may realise their fears are irrational or unreasonable

How can I help manage social anxiety?

Social anxiety may be managed with cognitive behaviour therapy to help change the way sufferers’ think, feel and behave in social situations.2 Stress and anxiety management techniques like relaxation and breathing techniques may assist with some of the uncomfortable physical symptoms and social skills training may also help you gain confidence and improve your ability to interact with others. Of course it’s also important to look after yourself and get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet and ensure you get enough essential nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium. When you feel stressed or anxious do something enjoyable to you, like exercise, or find a hobby and reach out to people with whom you feel comfortable. If you are finding it difficult to cope with anxiety, speak to your healthcare professional who can provide support and if appropriate may recommend a medication to help you cope.

Who can I speak to for help?

If you think you may be experiencing social anxiety you could talk to your doctor, a psychologist or a local support group for more information about how they can assist you in managing your specific concerns.

References

  1. Anxiety Treatment Australia, Treatment for Social Phobia, July 2012, http://www.anxietyaustralia.com.au/anxiety-disorders/social-anxiety/, June 2013
  2. Better Health Channel, Social phobia, September 2011, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, June 2013