Feeling Distressed In Social Situations? 5 Signs It May Be Social Anxiety
“There is no greater source of joy and meaning in our lives than our relationships with others.” - Esther Perel.
As humans, we each have an innate need to connect and live in community with others. However, what happens when anxiety takes over and makes it feel impossible to reach out to those around us? Isolation becomes synonymous with safety, so naturally, isolation becomes where we feel most comfortable.
Social anxiety can feel like a never-ending cycle of fear, avoidance, and disconnection.
Studies show that if left untreated, social anxiety can have a negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life. The problem tends to be that the word social anxiety is thrown around without much of an understanding of what it means. Below are five common signs of social anxiety to help you gain some understanding of what it is and how it can be helped.
1. Intense fear of being judged by others
One of the prominent features of social anxiety is a person’s fear of being judged or embarrassed in a social environment. This fear is so crippling that it leads to a person avoiding experiences with others.
2. Avoidance of social situations
The ability to avoid social interactions has become so easy for us in our culture. We no longer have to small talk with the cashier at the grocery store or interact with the teller at the bank. Our automated systems have given us an out from having to talk to each other. When someone struggles with social anxiety, avoidance becomes a great lifeline. By avoiding social situations, you won’t have to face your fear of being judged by others. On top of that, it is easy to avoid social interactions in this day and age. With the help of technology, most of us can go for long periods without being in social situations.
3. Experiencing physical reactions in social contexts
Our bodies will tell us about what is happening in our brains. For example, social anxiety can manifest in a racing heartbeat, sweaty hands, blushing, feeling sick to your stomach, or your hands shaking with fear. These reactions result from our bodies and brains trying to protect us from perceived threats. However, in the case of social anxiety, our bodies are reacting to a perceived threat that may not be there.
4. Worrying that others will sense your anxiety and reject you
Fear of rejection and embarrassment leads us to avoidance. By avoiding the situation, we take out the ability for anyone to see us and reject us. However, by avoiding, we also take away the very thing humans need: connection. When struggling with social anxiety, there is an intense fear of others noticing that you are anxious and that you will be embarrassed or humiliated in front of people.
5. Having intense anxiety throughout social situations
I recently joined an adult learn-to-skate class. The first day I went, my nerves were off the charts. I got there early and felt the anxiety welling up within me as I watched my class go out onto the ice. However, after a few minutes of introductions, the class began, and I met some new acquaintances. I was able to relax and enjoy myself. It is normal to experience nervousness and anxiety when entering new and unfamiliar social settings. However, once we are there and able to build connections, many anxieties naturally disappear. For the person struggling with social anxiety, however, those feelings will continue throughout the span of the social interaction.
All of us will experience some or all of these symptoms at some point in our lives. Maybe our anxiety increases the week we have a presentation or when we start at a new school. It is when these symptoms reach levels that begin to impact our ability to live out our lives that it is important to take notice of them. If you’re experiencing social anxiety and need tools to cope, reach out to a therapist. Studies show that most people never seek treatment for their social anxiety symptoms because they don’t know their life could look any different. However, the research also shows that multiple approaches work well to help people cope. These approaches include but are not limited to mindfulness skills, learning self-compassion, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Social anxiety can try to hold you back from living in connection with others. However, taking the first step to seek out support can make a world of difference in navigating these fears and anxieties. We have all spent time isolated from others at some point in the past three years. Now, I hope we can begin to take steps toward having fulfilling connections with others and seek help when our anxiety feels too great to do that alone.
References: Beesdo, B. K., Knappe, S., Fehm, L., Höfler, M., Lieb, R., Hofmann, S. G., & Wittchen, H. ‐U. (2012). The natural course of social anxiety disorder among adolescents and young adults. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 126(6), 411–425.
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