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Young Canadian man with social anxiety, wondering if he can get mental health treatment.

June 30, 2020 • read

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How to tell if you have social anxiety

Megan is in university. She lives in a dormitory and has a full class schedule. But, she’s struggling to keep up. If she’s running late to a lecture she’ll just skip it all together because she doesn’t want everyone’s eyes on her as she walks in. Megan doesn’t want to book an appointment with a guidance counselor because she can already imagine herself choking on her words and making a fool of herself. 

When it comes to a social life, Megan feels deficient. She doesn’t have many friends on campus. When she does go to social events, she tends not to say anything because she’s afraid of how her voice will sound, and whether everyone will judge her as a loser. The one friend she has, Rosie, lives on her floor in the dorm. Megan suspects Rosie only befriended her out of sympathy.

What is social anxiety?

Megan is just one of millions of people who struggle with social anxiety. Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is the fear of being judged by other people. This condition can become disruptive to your life if left untreated. People with social anxiety often feel nervous around:

  • Being introduced to other people.
  • Receiving negative feedback. 
  • Being the centre of attention. 
  • Being watched while doing something.
  • Public speaking.
  • Meeting people in authority positions, such as a boss or teacher. 
  • Making eye contact.

The paradox around social anxiety is that people with this condition really do want to make friends and participate in social situations. When they’re out in public, however, negative thoughts and physical symptoms can take over. 

Socially anxious people might feel like they stick out due to their awkwardness, but the truth is they’re far from alone. Social anxiety is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, after specific phobia. 

If you suspect you have social anxiety, it’s important to get help. Speaking with a therapist can greatly improve your comfort levels in social situations, as well as your self-esteem. 

Signs you suffer from social anxiety

People with social anxiety often display physical symptoms when they’re in social situations, or are thinking about them.

  • Turning red in the face.
  • Racing heartbeat.
  • Trembling of the limbs. 
  • Sweating.
  • Upset stomach or nausea.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Difficulty speaking, or speaking quietly. 

Sometimes, mental and emotional symptoms are even more intrusive than physical symptoms. Emotional distress can cause people to stay home, avoid their friends, and can lead to poor performance at school or work. This can turn into a self-feeding cycle as the person with anxiety becomes convinced that the longer they stay isolated, the fewer social connections they have to come back to. 

Social anxiety triggers

People with social anxiety often feel fear around:

  • Situations where they might be judged. 
  • Embarrassing themselves. 
  • Interacting with strangers. 
  • Fear that others will notice they look anxious. 
  • Developing physical symptoms of anxiety, such as hyperventilating. 
  • Expecting the worst possible outcome from a situation. 

A common tendency with social anxiety is to overanalyze situations from your past where you felt embarrassed. A familiar scenario is when you lie awake at night, cringing over something you said as a small child. Likely everyone else has forgotten about it, but your mind can’t help but fixate on that event. 

People with social anxiety will commonly avoid social situations such as dating, parties, returning items to a store, using a public restroom, and even school or work. If your anxiety is causing you to opt out of life situations, that’s a strong indicator to seek help. 

How to overcome social anxiety

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the top recommended treatment for social anxiety. In CBT, you and a psychotherapist will work on identifying unhelpful thought patterns and learned social behaviours. Then, you’ll come up with coping skills to help you be more effective and content in your life. 

Even a few sessions with a psychotherapist can make a profound difference. If you don’t want to see a therapist in person, you can always try online therapy. Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as traditional therapy, and is a good first step in breaking out of your comfort zone. 

In addition to therapy, try these methods for controlling your anxiety symptoms the next time you feel stressed or panicked:

  • Control your breathing. Take a long, deep breath through your nose and feel the air expand your lungs. Hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. 
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. It’s helpful to use an audio guide. Meditation apps and Youtube videos are a great place to start. 
  • Take the focus off yourself. If you feel yourself becoming anxious, try focusing on something else in the room. Notice it’s size, shape, and colours. 
  • Talk back to negative thoughts. This is especially helpful if you’ve already done some therapy, and can take a more objective look at your anxiety “voice.” If you’re worrying “If I speak up, people will think I’m annoying,” try countering it with the thought “I have as much a right to speak up as anyone. I have good ideas, and people want to hear them.”
  • Explore your senses. Focusing on what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste can help take you out of your mind and bring you into the present moment. 

How to get help for social anxiety

It’s important to get help for social anxiety. If left untreated it can seriously impact your self-esteem, cause low academic or career achievement, prevent you from developing social connections, and lead to substance abuse and suicidality. You don’t have to deal with social anxiety alone. A therapist can help you dismantle negative thoughts, and lead a more fulfilling life. 

If you’re looking for a therapist but can’t find one that fits your needs or schedule, online therapy might be the answer. You can schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist within 72 hours, for a text, audio, or video session. Our therapists are licensed and experienced in treating many kinds of phobias. Social anxiety doesn’t have to control your life — you can take the power back.

Talk to a therapist online.

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