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Overcoming Social Phobia

Do you sometimes feel anxious around people? Meaningful Minds Clinical Psychologist, Melissa Cilliers, examines this surprisingly common anxiety.

Are you someone who dreads social gatherings because you have legitimate physiological responses to the thought of having to engage with other human beings? Perhaps you have been described as having everyday nervousness? Maybe even rude or boring because you like to disappear into the background whenever there are too many people around or if you are expected to engage with important people and/or even family members.

Of course everyone feels shy or anxious in certain social environments, but for some people it can be a little more extreme. When this is the case it has a very debilitating affect on their lives and stops them doing the things they would like to.

Perhaps what you are sitting with is social anxiety or otherwise termed, social phobia. Social anxiety can manifest in different degrees depending on the person and their fears of a particular social situation. Social Anxiety is not just everyday nervousness; instead it is anxiety in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.

There is often a immense fear of making a mistake or being humiliated in some way and as a result, someone suffering from social anxiety, may avoid the social interaction all together. The source of the anxiety usually stems from a level of unreasonable fears which lead to distorted thinking and false beliefs.

So what are the symptoms?

Symptoms of social anxiety can include:

  • Intense anxiety in social situations

  • Avoidance of social situations

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety, including confusion, pounding heart, sweating, shaking, blushing, muscle tension, upset stomach, and diarrhea

  • Children with this disorder may express their anxiety by crying, clinging to a parent, or throwing a tantrum.

Situations that people often experience social anxiety in include:

  • Public speaking

  • Talking to authority figures

  • Talking to a group of people or an individual

  • Eating in public

  • Any performance based situations

Unhelpful behaviours:

  • Avoiding social situations to a degree that limits your activities or disrupts your life

  • Staying quiet or hiding in the background in order to escape notice and embarrassment

  • A need to always bring a buddy along with you wherever you go

  • Drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves

How to deal with Social Anxiety

The most effective treatment for social anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that is conducted by a trained therapist. There are a number of strategies that we can use to reduce

our social anxiety. These include:

  1. Working with a therapist.

  2. Become aware of the situations that create anxiety for you.

  3. Learning how to challenge our unhelpful thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.

  4. Teach yourself how to relax and to feel in control of your emotions.

  5. Mastering deep breathing exercises, daily.

  6. Reducing our tendency of focusing on ourselves during social interactions.

  7. Removing the use of avoidance and safety behaviours and gradually confronting our fears.

  8. Exposing yourself gradually to situations you fear the most.

  9. Set realistic goals of what you would like to achieve.

It is important to address the social phobia at your own pace, as exposing yourself to situations that increase levels at anxiety can be overwhelming and make you want to lean on your safety behaviours and avoidance behaviours. Becoming aware of any unhelpful thoughts that may be maintaining your social anxiety is vital.

If you require assistance in dealing with social anxiety, please feel free to make an appointment with one of our therapists to help you confront your fears.

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