If you suffer from social anxiety I want you to know that you're not on your own! It's such a common condition, but oh - what a painful one. How lonely you must feel at times.
When you’re facing a big life decision, such as buying a house or quitting your job to start your own company, it’s completely normal to feel stressed and anxious. That's no surprise as the consequences of something going amiss can be devastating.
In these cases, your apprehension (feeling on edge) can be helpful. It makes you just that little bit sharper and gives you the added motivation to think through your choices.
But, that's not what we're talking about, is it? You're probably anxious when it comes to 'just' facing up to meeting people. Bumping into someone, having to attend a meeting or even a party is probably causing you a major 'wobble'. In these cases, that sense of apprehension goes into overdrive and isn't useful to you... you're suffering from social anxiety. And the chances are, you've done your damnedest to hide it from people.
This difficult condition is characterised by feelings ranging from discomfort in social situations to an absolute terror of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It makes you worry that you'll embarrass yourself in some way, be rejected or publicly humiliated.
This is not just shyness - however painful. No, it's more than that... you're afraid of people.
Chances are you're well-practised at finding excuses not to have to attend social gatherings or functions, for example:
...or whatever helps you to avoid having to attend that event or function.
You may well be aware that your fears and feelings are over the top or unreasonable, but you feel inadequate, inferior, depressed and powerless to overcome the problem.
Maybe you have - on occasion - mustered the courage to confront your fears. But feeling sick with fear beforehand and terrified throughout may well have put you off trying again, let alone having to deal with all those worries that flood in afterwards...
What did they think of me, and about me? I know - I was an idiot!
Your imagination is likely to have worked overtime to conjure up the judgements you think people will have made. As a result, you vow not to put yourself in that situation again too quickly. Instead, you stay at home... your home is your castle and your comfort zone.
I want you to take back control though - and I'm going to get you back in the driving seat. I know you can do it! So, read on.
First, I'm going to help you understand the condition better - walking alongside you, as it were - before leading you out of that dark tunnel.
So what might cause all that distress? It's down to fears about any or all of the following (and consequently wanting to avoid any situation where they might occur)...
... because you think you'll look ridiculous, act 'stupidly', be an idiot, lack manners, be incompetent, fluff your words, say something inappropriate, etc - and that people will judge you harshly for it.
It's hard to build any relationships with all of that going on, let alone an intimate relationship. And if you have a partner it can be hard to trust that he or she will stick around as you increasingly withdraw from the outside world. In addition, it puts you at risk of finding yourself in an abusive relationship as you may so desperately reach out to any 'knight in shining armour' or any seemingly warm and open arms.
There is no single known cause, but research suggests that genetics may play a role (you may have inherited an overreaction to new experiences) in combination with environmental and general stressors.
In addition, bad or even traumatic experiences - such as being bullied at school, being rejected, being negatively evaluated, publicly criticised or ridiculed - may have contributed to the problem.
The best treatment is different for everyone, but the good news is that you can help yourself manage the condition with much less energy than you've spent so far. You can even overcome it altogether.
Here's what you need to do:
Oh, and here's another tip...
You’ve tried all of the above self-help strategies - consistently - and your dread of being among other people hasn't eased? It may be time to get some professional help, particularly if you've had a nasty experience that may have set you up to suffer from social anxiety.
Here's what's on offer to help you cure your fears (yes, the condition can potentially be cured!)...
Turn the tide by visiting a suitably qualified hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapy is the best way of letting your unconscious mind work for you, rather than against you.
Remember, if you can't afford to visit one, or your social phobia is stopping you from doing so - get the low-down and a download HERE.
Get a referral to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (or if you're in the UK or Netherlands - even better: a Human Givens Therapist). CBT is an effective treatment option for social anxiety. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps you to change negative or unhelpful thoughts and behavioural patterns which may contribute to your anxiety. CBT combines two components:
CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts (and not the outside world) affect how you feel and that in turn your feelings affect your behaviour. So it’s not the situation that determines how you feel, but your perception of it.
Group therapy can be an important element in your treatment plan. There are two kinds of groups: therapy groups and support groups.
Therapy groups focus on the use of CBT in a group setting and they may use acting, mock interviews, videotaping and observing. These offer you an opportunity to practice and prepare for situations you are afraid of in a safe environment.
A support group offers what it says on the tin. ;-)
Medication - in the form of beta-blockers, antidepressants and benzodiazepines - is sometimes used to ease symptoms of social anxiety. Although these medications can help, they come at a cost. Some of these are highly addictive, others cause (possibly permanent) changes in your brain, and none are a cure. Instead, they mask your symptoms temporarily. When you stop taking medication, your symptoms will probably return.
The changes you make to improve your overall health and well-being, and CBT, hypnotherapy and group therapy are much better ways to deal with your fears and phobias in the longer run.
If you happen to be in an abusive relationship this may well have caused your social anxiety, or it will worsen the situation. Yet at the same time, you're probably unlikely to imagine yourself being able to stand on your own two feet because of the disorder.
If this is the case, then I strongly recommend you find some way of accessing help. You'll find some useful organisation on this page.
For a loving partner, however, it is extremely painful to watch you suffer, as they recognise all your wonderful talents and your beauty. They also know your strength and the courage it takes for you to face up to each and every day.
You owe it to yourself, and to them, to take those tiny steps forward every day and beat that social anxiety or phobia.
I know you can do it. I'm rooting for you! :-)
* "Social Anxiety Disorder." CTSA: Social Anxiety: Symptoms. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.
** "A European Perspective on Social Anxiety Disorder." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Feb. 2000. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.