What is social anxiety? What are the symptoms of social anxiety?

She described herself, "a mess" and continued that she was always this anxious and worried about her appearance. Often she has flashes of how badly she was bullied in schools for the same, how fearful she becomes when she has to express, and how it has affected her communication and functionality. She added “Even my parents used to boast that our daughter is great in studies and scoring but when she has to talk or present herself she feels difficult; she is just like us”.

A 25-year female was talking in front of me and convincing me that being anxious is something in her genes. A smart professional who is working in IT efficiently and was regretting how miserable she feels when she has to interact or 'be' in her social gatherings.

Also, most of my counselee tells me that they feel extremely anxious when they have to answer in the class or to suggest their employer or colleagues.

Most of the studies related to anxiety have shown that about 36% of individuals with social anxiety feel hesitant to speak to an expert until they have had symptoms for at least 10 years.

What can it be? Normally, we all may feel anxious when we do something new in front of people, that's quite okay but this becomes a disorder when it starts hampering our functionality, mood, social relationship, and performances. Often it is misunderstood that being fearful and anxious is the same, and let me tell you how it is not! A ton of research has shown that people who are dealing with social anxiety consider their condition in large part as a problem caused by some biological or genetic flaw. Which they have to manage, whether through medicine or cognitive-behavioural interventions.

Though fear and anxiety often occur together, these conditions are not synonymous. Fear is a severe and natural reply to immediate danger whereas anxiety is an emotion regarding things we think that may happen to us. Anxious and frightening emotions can feel or look the same and be easily confused, but when we compare these two there are differences.

While we see fear vs anxiety helps us to determine how we are truly experiencing. Even though symptoms commonly co-occur, a person’s experience with these emotions differs based on their contexts, perception, beliefs, and negative experiences. Though anxiety and fear look identical, anxiety is a mixed reaction to emotions instead of threats in the environment.

Now, if we will see there are several types of anxiety and experiencing 'Social anxiety is the second most common type of anxiety.

Now, you may think that this is too common to experience and why we are supposed to worry about it because every one of us may have experienced how anxious one can be when they have to express, talk in front of a crowd or, even to go to college, or to maintain themselves at the workplace.

When a person has an extreme fear of being rejected, criticized for performing different tasks like giving interviews, presentations, or even attending any function he or she may feel extremely anxious and may anticipate that something bad will happen again. Often that 'something' is related to them, their health, or their things. Many a times a person with anxiety can say that "I feel breathless, I feel that I may die with a heart attack, or what if I look odd in front of my peers or colleagues, what others will think or talk about me. It haunts them so bad that they may avoid going out, talking, or visiting events and that's when they are supposed to seek help.

A person who has social anxiety has physical symptoms like blushing, nausea, excessive sweating, feeling choked, shivering, trembling or shaking, difficulty in speaking, dizziness or light headedness, and rapid heart rate.

Psychological symptoms may include distressing, anticipating, and avoiding social situations. They may look occupied with the recurrent thoughts, or feel indecisive, may feel fearful or nervous. That's why the chances to use negative coping strategies are high like consuming alcohol, drugs. Often they tend to harm themselves, shame themselves and reject their personality which may make them feel inferior or anxious.

Most importantly we need to understand that the symptoms of social anxiety do not occur in all situations. One may have limited or selective anxiety. For example, symptoms may only occur when you’re eating in front of people or talking to strangers and can be pretty okay when they are with their loved ones but often the symptoms of social anxiety can occur in all social settings if you have an extreme case.

Social anxiety is also distinct from shyness. Shyness is usually short-term and doesn’t disrupt one’s life or functionalities. Social anxiety is persistent and debilitating. It can affect one’s ability to work, attend school or college, and develop close relationships with people outside of their family.

The cause or the factors which contribute to developing social anxiety are unknown. However, it cannot be denied that it may be caused by environmental and genetic factors together. The negative experiences, traumas, sexual abuse, being exposed to familial conflicts or domestic violence, bullying, body shaming also contribute to this disorder.

Also, the serotonin imbalance may develop a state of anxiety and that can be addressed late as serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate mood. An overactive amygdala, technically which is a structure in the brain that regulates fear response and feelings or thoughts of anxiety also causes these disorders hence, we can say that Anxiety disorders can run in families.

However, the studies and researchers are not sure aren’t sure if they’re linked to genetic factors. For example, a kid might develop an anxiety disorder by learning the behaviour of one of their parents who has an anxiety disorder or a teen may feel anxious when she sees her best friend is having exam anxiety.

To treat social anxiety therapists, use therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Exposure therapy, and also help them through support groups.

Although it may take a time to realize and accept that it has to be managed with the help of psychotherapy or medication which can help one to begin to feel calmer and more confident in social situations. Mostly when we see someone who is anxious we say that you need to chill, take breaths or start meditations but we also need to convey to them that they need to work on their irrational thoughts and fears and how they can help themselves with a standard and authentic processes like mental health counselling, and psychotherapies.

Also read, What to expect from psychotherapy? Find best psychotherapies in Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata- https://mpowerminds.com/blog/What-to-expect-from-psychotherapy-and-How-it-works

What is individual psychotherapy and how does it help? https://mpowerminds.com/blog/What-is-individual-psychotherapy-and-how-does-it-help

Understanding the psychology behind downward spiral-
https://mpowerminds.com/blog/Understanding-the-psychology-behind-downward-spiral

Is overthinking leading to anxiety and affecting your mental health? Find the best mental health clinics in Mumbai
https://mpowerminds.com/blog/Is-overthinking-leading-to-anxiety-and-affecting-your-mental-health-Find-the-best-mental-health-clinics-in-Mumbai

Does dance therapy really help others in overcoming their social anxiety?
https://mpowerminds.com/blog/Does-Dance-Therapy-really-help-others-in-overcoming-their-social-anxiety

How has social media impacted our mental health? 5 ways to deal with social media anxiety.
https://mpowerminds.com/blog/How-has-social-media-impacted-our-mental-health-5-ways-to-deal-with-social-media-anxiety

Author
Namrata Chandwadkar
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