Social anxiety, as the word implies, has connections to social situations. For someone who suffers from it, this could be a nightmare, as he/she is unable to handle social situations or interactions with other people.
Social anxiety handicaps a person for life
Social anxiety represents a significant handicap in every aspect of life. It is associated with underachievement in academics and sports, problems coping in school, and also poses a threat to progress at the workplace or in one’s professional career. Needless to say, social anxiety also hinders intimate relationships. A person with social anxiety is unable to fight for his/her love. When someone suffers from social anxiety, that person continuously fears the negative judgements and evaluations of others. These fears lead to feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and low levels of self-esteem.
Social anxiety not only has connections to social situations, but it can also affect circumstances when performance is expected. Individuals might feel that they will be unable to perform to the expectations of others or their own standard of expectation. The feelings are persistent and are not limited to a certain situation. A range of fearful social situations invariably leads to feelings of anxiety. The person is aware that her/her fears are too excessive or unreasonable, yet, despite this knowledge, he/she is unable to handle those fears. Anxiety causes a significant amount of distress in such situations, and has a profound impact on the well-being and everyday functioning of the person.
The disorder is also associated with increased levels of clinical depression, substance abuse and difficulties in finding gainful employment. The affected people are their own worst critics as a consequence of harsh judgments and evaluation of others. Eventually, they see themselves as socially defective entities based on social rejection or abuse. Their behaviour is mainly connected with the maladaptive feelings of fear and shame. Their negative self-concept and their very own “internal critic” lead to avoidance and withdrawal in social situations.
Symptoms of social anxiety
Social anxiety is a common disorder and millions of people worldwide suffer from it. The disorder is triggered by a variety of situations. The individuals feel uncomfortable when they have to speak, eat, dance or perform in front of others. They do not like to be introduced to new people, try to avoid meeting authority figures, are afraid to initiate conversations, or shy away from being at the centre of attention.
Social anxiety has physical symptoms as well, like excessive sweating – especially on the palms, blushing, feeling nauseated, weakness of voice when speaking, trembling and unintentional muscle twitches, particularly around the face.
What causes social anxiety?
The disorder can be a companion for a whole lifespan, but its subjective experience varies from person to person. People with certain professions are more likely to be affected; for example, it could be worse for an actor or a teacher to have social anxiety, than people who do not necessarily need to have intensive contacts with others during their work. However, their personal life still suffers. The disorder has biological foundations as well as connections to experiences. Maternal rejection or, on the contrary, overprotection can cause social anxiety. Traumatic experiences can also have similar results.
Treatment for social anxiety
Despite the very high numbers of individuals suffering from social anxiety, this client group is rarely the focus of therapeutic approaches. Emotion-focused therapy can be extraordinarily useful to address social anxiety as the disorder is strongly connected to emotional competence and the regulation of emotions. Individuals with social anxiety disorder are generally unskilled in understanding and regulating their own and other people’s emotions. It is necessary for clients to understand their emotions and learn to regulate them according to the demands of a given situation. The improvement in emotional understanding and consciousness can help to achieve a better level of overall functioning.
Emotion-focused therapy represents an approach which is able to deal with the long-standing problems of clients with social anxiety. It establishes a genuine and caring relationship, allows re-experiencing of the processes that generate anxiety along with the internal critic, strengthens the self by emotion regulation techniques and empathic affirmation, helps clients to transform their core emotions into new and adaptive emotional responses, and consolidates the changes in the client.
Overcoming social anxiety
Overcoming social anxiety is not an easy task, but thousands of people have already done it. There are important elements, which professionals consider as crucial in conquering it. Successful addressing of social anxiety requires a deep understanding of the problem. The client should be committed to therapy and should be aware of the nature of the disorder and as well as the need for prolonged participation in therapy. Apart from therapeutic sessions, practice is vital in order to make strategies and rational beliefs automatic. Emotion-related skills go beyond anxiety and serve the client in a variety of situations and circumstances in his/her life. Clients will be able to understand and identify emotional states, discuss emotion-related experiences with others, and understand the nature of emotion regulation strategies. Successfully addressing social anxiety will allow them a better overall life quality.
Psychologists at the Centre with expertise in social anxiety
If you are looking for help with social anxiety, the following psychologists at the centre can assist you:
To get an appointment or to make enquiries, please call (03) 9820-5577.
- Living with Anxiety: CEFP Community Information Session, Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013, 6.30-7.30 PM
- Self-Esteem: A Work in Progress
- Anxiety and Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- On Shyness: I’m too shy to talk about it, so I’m writing it down!
- Body Image