Social anxiety is more common than you think, and most people have a built-in fear of social situations where there is a danger of fooling around or getting into a bad light! Here you learn about social anxiety and what you can do to overcome the social anxiety.

You can use this article for those who have social anxiety, to learn more about what you can do to overcome anxiety. Use the article in collaboration with your therapist, or in collaboration with people you trust. 


 

Fear of making a mistake

Video

Everyone fears to make a mistake, to appear as a failure, and to be judged by others as a weak and inferior person. If you are characterized by the fear of being embarrassed to such an extent that it creates anxiety for everyday, social situations, it is likely that you have social anxiety.

Have you ever considered that it is perfectly normal to make mistakes, and that this is actually something that happens to everyone? Fortunately, people are not as concerned about you as you think. If you happen to make a mistake (and you will probably experience that sooner or later), then you can try to see the fun in it! 

Probably Bjarte Flem (see video above) does not go around anymore and is ashamed of his goalkeeper mistake. He made it more or less a world celebrity. Yes, it was a terrible mistake, but what? How dangerous is that really to make a mistake?

 

It is normal to be afraid

So it is normal to make a mistake, or to get in a bad light from time to time. Another thing that is quite common is to be afraid. Fear, dread or anxiety is a feeling that all people have, and which is naturally linked to facing situations that involve danger or threat.

Did you know that all people have a part of the brain that turns on the "fight-flight system" completely automatically when faced with a dangerous situation (or when your brain misinterprets a situation as dangerous)?

 

The fight-flight system

In this video you see an example of how smart it is for the brain to have its own combat-flight system that can react quickly when a dangerous situation arises. As we can see, a man is being run over, but he manages with difficulty and can hardly escape - and it was thanks to his brain automatically perceiving the dangerous situation and making him jump away, that he managed.

In other words, the "fight-flight system" is very useful, and it is part of the brain that we need to survive.

Typical signs that you are scared (that the combat-escape system is turned on) can be:

 

  1. Feeling of fear!
  2. Blush!
  3. Trembling on the hands!
  4. Stomach ache!
  5. Feel you can not breathe!
  6. Afraid to faint, or to go "crazy"!
  7. An intrusive thought: "I have to get away !!!"

 

These symptoms do not mean that there is something wrong with you, but that your fear system has turned on. By becoming very scared or worried about what these symptoms mean, you trick your brain into thinking that it's actually dangerous to be scared - and then the fear system continues to be activated.

It becomes a vicious circle: You get a feeling of being afraid. Therefore you interpret this feeling as if something is wrong with you. Therefore you become more afraid.

Understanding that being afraid is perfectly normal is a good start to taking control of your anxiety. Knowing that anxiety is not dangerous, but that the fight-flight system has been a bit too overzealous, paradoxically, this leads to less anxiety.

 

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety means that you get scared in situations where you can be embarrassed - where you can be exposed to other people's assessment or criticism! You get scared even before the situation occurs, that is, you only know that you will soon enter it.

 

Social anxiety: Being afraid of people

In this documentary you get an insight into the lives of people who struggle with social anxiety. We will see how it limits the lives of those affected by anxiety, but also that there is hope of getting rid of anxiety.

Social anxiety can be activated by situations such as:

  • To meet new people
  • Having to say something while others are listening
  • Talking to "important" people
  • To be asked to say something in class
  • Talking on the phone
  • To be visiting someone you do not know very well

  

  1. Emotions of social anxiety

    • Afraid of being perceived as "weak", "different"…
    • Having breathing problems, one feels losing control
    • Terrified 
    • Think everyone is talking about me
    • Anxious to be anxious

    Remember: these are just feelings - and it is not dangerous to feel this!

  2. Thoughts of social anxiety

    • What I say sounds silly
    • I am a boring person
    • I'm going to make a fool of myself
    • They will see that I'm nervous
    • I have no idea what to say
    • I might turn red like a tomato
    • I'm going to lose control
    • I'm going to tremble and shake so much that… (fill the blanks)

    Remenber: These are just thoughts - and you can learn to think differently

  3. It happens in the body through social anxiety

    • Palpitations
    • Sweating
    • Feeling you are losing your breath
    • Trembling hands and feet
    • Stomach ache
    • Dizzyness

    Remember: this is common when one is scared - and it is not dangerous

 

Typical course of social anxiety

As mentioned, symptoms of social anxiety is related to social situations. However, the fear is not only present in terms of an ongoing social situation. The fear kicks in prior to such situations; they are expericenced within the course of a situation; and the fear and worry is also there after social situations. 

 

Before an anxious situation

  • Dread and worry
  • Thinking of everything that can go wrong
  • Trying to imagine the whole situation in advance

 

In the middle of an anxious situation

  • Very focused on yourself
  • Concerned about controlling the body (I must not blush; I must not tremble)
  • Thinking through sentences before they are said - trying to hard to be in control

 

After an anxious a situation

  • Thinking hard about what happened - trying to remember everything (almost like it was digging for gold, as is obviously wrong)
  • Remembering only the negative (what a fool I made of myself)
  • Remembering that you felt miserable - therefore concluding that the result was miserable! (poor me, I am hopeless)

  

Try this to get better from social anxiety

The following list cover some pieces of advise which may be useful in order to recover from social anxiety.

 

  1. Talk to someone you trust about how you are doing! Is there anyone who can help you and be a supportive person? For some it is useful to get social support in relation to overcoming the anxiety in a support group.
  2. Have conversations with a professional helper, who can help you work your way out of anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to have a good effect against social anxiety.
  3. Exposure to what one is afraid of is an important way out of anxiety. However, it is important that there is a gradual exposure, and that you remain in the anxious situation until the anxiety subsides. It is also crucial to not destroy the gains by overwhelming yourself with negative evaluations afterwards an exposure to for example a social situation. Thus, it may be wise to start with something that is "within reach"; something that you might cope well. Otherwise, it might be an exposure that does not reduce anxiety, but potentially intensifying it.

    A good tip on how to get started on what you are trying to avoid is to create an anxiety hierarchy. Ie. Write down a list of situations that give you some anxiety, more anxiety, and maximum anxiety. Enter a sum for how anxious each situation makes you (from 0 to 100). For example:

    • Holding a public speach (100)
    • Participating in a play (95)
    • Talking to the boss at work (90)
    • Talking on the phone (85)
    • Taking a bus alone (70)
    • Taking a bus with others (50)
    • Talking to others at work (45)
    • Being in a cafe with a friend (40)
    • Being at a mall (30)

    Decide to practice what you find difficult!

    Encourage yourself to start with the easiest first!

    Talk to your helper(s) about how you're doing with your progress through the anxiety hierarchy; make plans together with the helper; sort thoughts together and stay focused on the progress that you are making.

  4. Get hold of your catastrophic thoughts by imagining - and playing through - a "worst case" scenario!

    1. "What is the worst that can happen?"

    2. "What would I be able to do then?"

  5. Think helpful thoughts

    1. "It's not as dangerous as I think!"

    2. "I take the chance to try!"

  6. Be generous with yourself; try to be your own supporter - and not your own worst enemy. Speak encouragingly to yourself
  7. Avoid using alcohol or other drugs to reduce anxiety

  

A step-by-step recipe for facing a difficult situation

With social anxiety, it can be especially difficult to do a task where you are observed by other people, such as giving a presentation, being on a visit, attending lunch, and more. Here are specific tips on what to do:

 

  1. BEFORE you do anything difficult!

    • Prepare if you are going to do a task
    • Think about what is "good enough"
    • Do not spend time scaring yourself; rather think of something else
    • Think that:
      • "It's not as dangerous as I think!"
      • "I'll take the chance!"
  2. WHILE doing something difficult

    • Try to look "outwards"
    • Do not worry about how you feel, but look around you!
    • Do not be concerned with preventing flushing or trembling
    • It does not matter if you blush! It does not matter if you tremble!
    • People recognize less of these things than you think!
    • People are not so concerned about whether you are scared!
    • Say something if you have something you want to say!
    • It's also okay to just listen!
  3. AFTER you have done something difficult

    • Do not spend time pondering whether it went well
    • Tell yourself that you did good - that not running away (even if you wanted) was a great achievment
    • Give yourself praise for what you achieved!
    • Think of something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! Do something you like!

 

Struggling with social anxiety is tiring, and you may have thoughts that it is hopeless to do something about the anxiety. But with the right treatment, or with effective self-help methods (and social support), there are good opportunities to overcome even social anxiety.

Cite this article

 

Feel free to use information from this article on your website, but remember to add a link.

 

Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
 Facebook -  Twitter -  Scholar
- Helpseeker.net 

Read more about anxiety

Anxiety

Five myths about anxiety

Do you think that anxiety is just sitting in your head? That you need to know the cause…