What is Social Anxiety?
It is quite common for people to have some anxiety when entering new social situations, including fear of being judged by others, and feeling self-conscious about appearance or behaviour. However, when people avoid social situations altogether, it can become very limiting to social life and regular functioning. Extreme social anxiety can limit meeting new people, entering a new school or job, and even day-to-day tasks such as shopping.
This can have a significant effect on someone’s life, but can go largely unnoticed when characterised by avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. It is not something that should go untreated, however, as there are some simple strategies available to combat the anxiety.
Psychology Melbourne's team of psychologists employ Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and other forms of evidence-based treatments that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of both generalised anxiety, and specific anxiety such as social anxiety. Graded exposure methods can also be used, in which a professional guides the person through gradual exposure to the feared situation.
CBT provides the education, tools and strategies needed to cope with the situations that provoke worry and anxiety. Learning and practicing these strategies can improve symptoms and provide a greater level of functioning
What are the signs?
Some signs of social anxiety include:
- Irrational emotional distress regarding new or unusual social situations, thoughts of being judged negatively, worry about being the centre of attention, or being teased or criticised.
- Discomfort in interpersonal relationships.
- Physical symptoms such as blushing, increased heart rate, stumbling over words, trembling, and sweating.
- Rehearsing or replaying social encounters in your head.
- Panic attacks when exposed to the feared situation.
As with many disorders, there is no “one size fits all” cause for social anxiety disorder. Personal, genetic, and environmental factors play a role in social anxiety, as well as a predisposition to generalised anxiety. Early childhood bullying or social rejection can also increase the risk of social anxiety.
Thinking style can also influence symptoms of social anxiety. People who frequently interpret social cues in a negative way, for example “He is looking at me because he doesn’t like my clothes” are more likely to experience social anxiety.
What can be unhelpful?
- Avoidance of situations. Avoiding things altogether doesn’t allow us to combat our false beliefs, it only strengthens them. For example, “If I call the doctor, I will say something wrong and they will laugh at me”.
- Safety behaviours. For example, only attending social events if you have someone else with you, looking at your phone instead of making eye contact, or using alcohol to lessen the level of discomfort in social situations.
- Obsessing or overthinking. These unhelpful thought patterns simply reinforce beliefs around how bad a social situation will be.
Strategies to manage social anxiety
- Seek a psychologist who has experience in treating social anxiety. At Psychology Melbourne, we have a number of qualified psychologists at various locations who can support you.
- Education around social anxiety; including your own symptoms, triggers and coping strategies. Understanding your own social anxiety is a big first step.
- Change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that maintain the anxiety.
- Simple grounding exercises, such as mindful breathing or relaxation.
- Physical outlets, such as walking and yoga.
Psychology Melbourne has a team of experienced psychologists who can help address and treat social anxiety through a range of therapeutic approaches, supporting you in a safe and confidential environment.