Are you someone who has trouble talking to strangers or starting conversations? Do you have difficulty speaking in public? What about making eye contact? Is that hard for you to do? If you answered yes to these questions, don’t think that you’re just inherently shy. You could be suffering from social anxiety disorder.
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition. It is a forceful, tenacious fear of being observed and judged by others. This dread of judgment can disturb your work, affect your school life, and will have negative influences on your daily activities. It can also adversely affect your social life and your ability to keep lasting friendships.
If you have this disorder, you may exhibit the following signs:
- Excessive blushing, sweating, and trembling, especially when in front of many people.
- You feel a quick heart rate, or constantly experience mental blocks.
- You experience queasiness or the feelings of a stomach ache.
- Displaying a stiff physical carriage, having little eye contact, lowering your eyes in public, or speaking with an exceedingly soft voice and people continually say you speak too softly.
- Scared to be with other people, especially those you don’t already know.
- Extremely self-conscious in front of other people, feeling embarrassed and awkward.
- Fearful that other people will judge you and not like you.
Some of the Causes
Many parts of the brain are tangled in fear and anxiety. The misinterpretation of other people’s actions can trigger you to feel distressed and anxious. For instance, you may have the perception that people are staring at you, or you feel that they don’t like you when they probably feel none of those things.
Immature social skills are also another contributor to social anxiety. For example, if you have weak social skills, you may feel dispirited after talking with people and may become apprehensive about doing it again in the future.
Talk to a Professional
The first thing that you need to do to resolve your social phobia is to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms. Your doctor will conduct an examination and inquire about your health history to see if there may be a distinct physical issue causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may send you to a mental health specialist, such as a therapist, psychologist, clinical social worker, or counselor. The diagnosis must be made by a medical practitioner and not just by you because you might be wrong with your perceptions of what you think you are feeling.
Having a social anxiety disorder does not mean you are stuck with it for life. There are different treatment options available. There are pharmacological interventions (drugs) and there are also psychological interventions (cognitive and behavioral approaches).
However, if you want to take steps to solve your problem on your own, there are also ways to do that.
Here are some suggestions on how you can conquer social anxiety without spending too much or involving other people.
‘Know Thy Enemy’
For you to make a successful attempt at helping yourself, you need to know the enemy. This is one of the key principles in Lao Tzu’s book entitled The Art of War. Trying to overcome a social phobia is a battle in itself, so you’ve got to know your opponent and what you’re up against.
Examine yourself. With deliberate effort, try to get to the bottom of your specific fear. For instance, why are you afraid of speaking in public? Or, why can’t you bring yourself to approach someone and strike up a conversation? Why do you feel awkward looking someone straight in the eye?
Be determined to know ‘why’ you have these problems, and don’t overthink that people don’t like you or they are talking about you behind your back.
Once you’re successful in knowing what’s causing your apprehensions, you will know what to do to surmount the problem. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be accomplished overnight. However, if you make that one small step of knowing the enemy, then you have won half the battle already.
Confront Your Fear
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that you need to look fear in the face and say, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” What she’s saying is that you must do the things you think you cannot do. Where possible, avoid huge challenges that might have (from your perspective) devastating consequences. But continually challenge yourself to move beyond your comfort zone. Regular practice will provide desensitization, and former triggers will have less and less impact.
It is not easy to confront your own fears, especially if this has been with you for a very long time. But if you really want to get on with your life, then you have to exert effort, spend time, and be prepared for the ‘battle.’
Wrestling against your fear takes more than deliberate intention. It takes courage, but especially perseverance. Don’t expect to ‘win’ every time, and don’t let setbacks stop you from moving forward and trying again.
Do celebrate your minor victories, if only to yourself. It is by persistently stacking these small wins that you will one day be pleasantly shocked that you are now easily doing things that once caused trepidation and distress.