We’ve all heard the term social anxiety thrown out. With people becoming more educated on mental health, they are realizing they are not alone. In fact, their difficulties in certain situations are not helpless if you can learn the signs of social anxiety.
According to Psychology Today, 7% of the U.S. population has a social anxiety disorder and usually developed during adolescence. With that statistic, it can be hard to know whether you have social anxiety or are just nervous about a specific situation.
Knowing for sure that you are dealing with social anxiety can help you identify the triggers and actually help you overcome the symptoms. Although I do recommend seeing a therapist who can officially diagnose you with anxiety, these things can often be self-diagnosed through learning the symptoms and signs.
[Read: Social anxiety vs shyness – How to know for sure what you’re feeling inside]
What is social anxiety?
Although you may have heard of social anxiety, do you know what it actually is? Like all anxieties, it is different for everyone. Some people’s social anxieties are potent around new people, while others struggle around people they see every day.
Social anxiety is more than being nervous to present something at work or go on a date. Instead, social anxiety is when those nerves are so out of control you can’t handle it. It manifests in a panic attack or a need to cancel. Social anxiety often results in avoiding social situations all together which can, in turn, create a loss of personal connection and even lead to things like depression.
Essentially, social anxiety is a fear of being social. It is one of the most common mental health problems.
[Read: How to build self-confidence: 16 ways to realize you’re worth it]
It is something most people deal with alone. Admitting you’re struggling to someone else when you already have a fear of socializing is isolating. You take your issues and recede into yourself rather than reaching out for help which makes the social anxiety even harder to handle.
Learning how to spot the signs of social anxiety so you can get ahead of it or ask for help is the best thing you can do to overcome your anxiety and live a happier life.
The signs of social anxiety to keep an eye on
Like all types of anxiety, social anxiety has many triggers and symptoms. If you relate to these there is a chance you have social anxiety. Social anxiety can be minor or severe. For some people, talk therapy and creating exercises are enough to manage their symptoms. For others, medication, along with cognitive behavioral therapy, is the answer.
No matter what level of social anxiety you’re dealing with, you are not alone. There is help. The best thing to do right now is to learn to pick up on the signs of social anxiety.
#1 You feel physically scared in social situations. You know that physical fear you have after just barely avoiding a car accident or going over a hill on a roller coaster? That is the feeling you experience when going to a party, a meeting, or meeting new people.
If you feel physical symptoms of that fear, like you are in danger, when you go on a date, job interview, or making small talk, this could be a very clear sign of social anxiety. [Read: How to get rid of nervousness: Lose the fear and learn to guide your mind]
#2 You fear being judged by others. Social anxiety is often about how you fear others see you. You worry you’ll come off as too pretentious or too casual. You want to appear confident and carefree, but you worry constantly about what others think about how you look, dress, and act.
#3 You feel dizzy and lightheaded around strangers. This can be very specific to situations where you are meeting new people like the first day at work or a friend’s wedding. Also, it can be true for you when shopping at a new location or even being in crowded spaces.
#4 You’re scared of being embarrassed. Embarrassment is a part of life. Although some people find it easy to laugh at themselves, someone with social anxiety will dread even something small like being clumsy or tripping. You will fear having toilet paper stuck to your shoe or food in your teeth more than most people.
It isn’t something you’re a little worried about, but have a great fear of. It can be so great you repeatedly check yourself in a mirror or don’t eat while you’re out with others in case you were to spill. [Read: How to beat the debilitating, awful fear of rejection]
#5 You have a nervous stomach. It is common to have a nervous stomach before a first date or a flight, but having this feeling before every social interaction or event you have can cause issues. Having gas, diarrhea, and just all around stomach trouble can turn you off of eating before events. This only increases your chances of having anxiety symptoms.
#6 You can’t catch your breath in stressful situations. This is a symptom of not just anxiety but also a panic attack. If you feel so overwhelmed in new social situations or even ones you’re used to that you feel like you could pass out, you’re sweating, and feel lightheaded or weak you could be really struggling. [Read: How to explain your anxiety to someone you love and do it fearlessly]
#7 You’re worried you might offend someone. You’re always worried you’ll say the wrong thing. You’re worried you’ll make a joke at the wrong time or say something inappropriate or not in the vibe of what’s happening. If this worry gets so out of hand that you decide to keep to yourself and not interact with others, it is a major sign of social anxiety.
#8 You irrationally worry about things that will never happen. A symptom of social anxiety is excessive and irrational worry. You create conversations that might happen in your head in order to prepare for conversation in real life. You create outlandish situations that make you more worried than things that are really likely to happen.
#9 You feel most happy and comfortable around people you know well. This is common for most people, especially for introverts who are most likely to have social anxiety. For you, this may be highly intensified. Instead of just feeling most comfortable at home, you feel safe there. You don’t feel safe around new people. It usually isn’t a fear that they’ll hurt you, but just something will happen outside of your comfort zone. [Read: How to make new friends as an adult and do it right]
#10 You don’t like being the center of attention. This is also true for introverts. However, for those with social anxiety, it is one thing to be at a social event but another to be the center of that event. You likely fear someone throwing you a surprise party or any party. You don’t like people asking you questions, talking about yourself, or even looking at you for an extended period of time.
#11 You worry about how you came off after an event. For many people with minor social anxiety, they will anticipate an event and be anxious leading up to it but afterwards will relax. For those with more severe social anxiety, they will worry about things they said, how they were, what people meant by what they said, and recreate and analyze every interaction from the event.
#12 You believe you have poor social skills. A lot of people struggling with social anxiety believe they have poor social skills. They analyze their behaviors and find flaws in their jokes or small talk or just mannerisms. This is partly due to low self-esteem that can be both a symptom and an effect of social anxiety but is also part of the irrational fears that go along with it.
Most people with social anxiety are so hyper aware of themselves that they tend to have better social skills and are more kind and considerate than others. [Read: How to stop being nervous – 18 calm ways to eliminate your nerves one step at a time]
#13 You feel awkward. Awkwardness is real if you have social anxiety. You feel like every pause or silence is uncomfortable. And you get nervous someone doesn’t like you if they don’t make eye contact. But if they do, it’s too much.
#14 You struggle to live a “normal” life because of your fears. When these fears and symptoms of social anxiety prevent you from making plans, cause you to break plans, and keep you closed off to making human connections, it can lead to isolation and even depression if not treated.
How to overcome social anxiety
Overcoming social anxiety is like overcoming other fears. It can seem terrifying at first. In order to get rid of a fear, especially an irrational one, you must face it. Think about a fear of flying. You’ll never get over it without actually getting on a plane. Well, with social anxiety, you can’t overcome it without interacting with people and learning that the fears you have aren’t based in reality.
[Read: Secret to happiness? Your uncomplicated guide for a happy life]You need to be exposed to your fear in order to stop avoiding it. This helps you to build confidence and relearn that the feared situation is harmless.
What many people with social anxiety do is avoid triggers like not accepting invitations to parties. But that relief from panic is only temporary as there will always be another event that causes that anxiety. This is why learning how to retrain your mind from worry and panic into a calmer state is so effective. It can be hard and takes practice, but helps you feel more comfortable entering into unknown social situations. [Read: Nervous sweating – How to recognize your triggers and prevent stress sweats]
Along with exposure therapy, breathing techniques are often used. This can help you to breakdown the fears leading up to or during a specifically stressful situation so you can work through them in the moment. This is how you would break down an intense panic attack. Instead of letting it take over your mind or fighting it every step of the way you learn to embrace those feelings, let them in, and let them pass.
Both of these techniques, along with medication that can be taken daily or when needed, are most effective when under regular treatment with a mental health professional.
[Read: Social anxiety to social butterfly: How to morph and learn to be less awkward]
I know it can be hard to admit that you are showing signs of social anxiety. But once you do, take further steps to overcome it and feel more comfortable in your own skin.
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