Certain situations may make us feel anxious, such as presenting in front of a crowd or meeting someone the first time. However, when the feeling is pervasive—it affects many aspects of your life, such as school, social life or work—or even paralyzing, then it becomes a problem.
If you suspect that you are suffering from social anxiety, read on and I will tell you what you can do to deal with your social anxiety—also known as social phobia.
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
The symptoms can be categorized into three categories. Physiological responses, thoughts, and behaviour.
Physiological symptoms of social anxiety may include: (1)
- Heart racing
- Sweaty palms
- Butterfly in stomach
Thoughts of someone suffering from social anxiety may include:
- Fear of being judged by others
- Have the tendency to expect the worst situations that you fear
Behaviors of someone suffering from social anxiety may include:
- Avoiding situations where you may be judged
- Avoiding eye contact
*Symptoms may vary from one individual to another.
What do I do? (2)
1. Believing and knowing that this anxious feeling will blow over.
Feelings are fluid. Know and believe that this feeling of your heart racing or lightheadedness will pass, and let time do its work for you. Think of the first thing you’d notice when your feelings have started to change; for example, your heart is no longer pounding, and it is beating at a calmer pace.
2. Systematic graduated exposure
In other words, we slowly introduce the stimulus that makes you feel anxious, and gradually introduce another stimulus that provokes higher intensity of anxiety.
I know it may sound terrifying, but this is usually done with a counselor to guide you through the process safely. It usually begins with exposing you to the least alarming stimulus—imagination.
For example, you can imagine that you are standing on a stage and are about to give a talk. With the help of the counselor, you can get through this cognition exercise together. This is paired with a relaxation exercise, such as deep breathing.
Then, we slowly move on to slightly more anxiety-provoking stimulus; imagine that you are giving a talk this time. This should also be paired with a relaxation exercise.
What comes next is—I believe you can guess what comes next—an even more provoking exercise. You could move on to real life situations, such as standing on an actual stage. Needless to say, this should also be paired with a relaxation exercise. This continues until you believe you can handle the initial anxiety-provoking stimulus.
3. Cognitive restructuring
We put the anxiety-provoking thought ‘on trial’ and we are going to question the beliefs or underlying assumptions that you have about the stimulus that provoked anxiety in you.
For example, the reason why you have intense anxiety when you have to talk to a crowd is because you are afraid that you might faint and others would judge and laugh at you. The raising of heart rate may be equated to a heart attack in the mind. But how true is that?
And many of us have this fear of being judged and laughed at. Again, how true is that? Will they actually laugh at you? That’s some food for thought.
All this may seem intense, but it is usually done under the guidance of a counselor, so that you’d be able to navigate these experiences in a safe environment. If you are interested in seeking help, feel free to contact me.
Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).