What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety (or chronic shyness) is an extreme apprehension about social situations, in which you anticipate being negatively evaluated or examined by others. The fear of criticism or scrutiny can be most severe when meeting strangers or in situations where evaluation from others is likely, such as giving a presentation or going on a date. Consequently, many sufferers will actively avoid situations where evaluation from others is expected. A person with social anxiety can hold fears of dreaded events occurring in social situations, such as having nothing to say in conversation, fainting, nausea or blushing. When confronted with feared social encounters, an individual with social anxiety is likely to worry extensively before the event and may completely avoid the situation.

How does a person with social anxiety feel?

Most people who have social anxiety have a strong fear of being embarrassed in front of people. People who have social phobia feel as though everyone is watching them and will see them blush, sweat or otherwise show their fear and anxiety. They may feel inferior and think everyone around them is so much more confident and socially relaxed.

Some common feelings include:

  • Worrying a lot about making a fool of yourself in front of other people
  • Feeling very anxious before going into any of the social situations you worry about
  • Going through in great detail all the embarrassing things that could happen to you
  • Unable to say, or do the thing you want to do
  • After an event worrying about how you handled the situation. You may go over, again and again, how you might have behaved differently or said different things.

CBT for Social Anxiety

In assessment I will want to develop a picture of you as a person. Many questions will be directed to you about earlier history of childhood, relationships and general functioning. Your symptoms of Social anxiety are considered only part of the person and that your condition does not define who you are. As part of treatment It may be useful to explore what life might be like for the individual if their symptoms of social anxiety were more manageable. Typically, the role of avoidance and its impact on the quality of your life will also be assessed.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the premise that what you think affects how you feel, and your feelings affect your behaviour. So if you change the way you think about social situations that cause you to be anxious, you will feel and function better.

CBT for social phobia typically involves:

  • Learning how to control the physical symptoms of anxiety through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
  • Challenging negative, unhelpful thoughts that trigger and fuel social anxiety replacing them with more balanced views.
  • Facing social situations you fear in a gradual, systematic way rather than avoiding them.

Other CBT based techniques for social phobia include role playing and social skills training As you practice and prepare for situations you are afraid of, you will become more and more comfortable and confident in your social abilities, and your anxiety will lessen.