Understanding Social Anxiety  

Title
Understanding Social Anixety
Published
January 31, 2024

Do you fear social judgement and struggle to feel comfortable in personal interactions? In this blog post, we will explore what social anxiety is and begin the journey toward feeling more at ease with who you are.

What is social anxiety?

We commonly use terms such as ”shyness” or “introversion” to describe personality but what makes social anxiety different?. Social anxiety entails “persistent, intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations because you believe you may be judged negatively, embarrassed or humiliated”.

Social anxiety can affect many areas of our lives including how we navigate work, friendships, dating, and even day-to-day tasks.

  • I get nervous if I have to speak with someone in authority (teacher, supervisor, health care professionals)
  • I become tense if I have to talk about myself or my feelings
  • I find myself worrying that I won’t know what to say
  • I notice physical symptoms such as shaky hands, tripping over my words, and blushing

These thoughts and feelings are normal, and felt by many people. However, those who struggle with social anxiety feel these feelings more intensely or feel overwhelmed by them. In order to reduce our feelings of anxiety, we may resort to two things: avoiding or enduring. Avoiding might mean declining an invitation to a social event or arriving at the meeting the moment it begins so as to avoid having to engage in small talk. When enduring, you attend the social situation but soothe your anxiety by drinking more than you wanted to or by engaging in what we call “safety behaviours” (any action that makes us feel safer, like only asking questions and avoiding talking about yourself).

Feeling flawed

What often lies at the core of social anxiety is the belief that there is something embarrassing, deficient, or flawed about us.

Though social anxiety may look and feel differently for each person, there are 4 common overarching themes of feeling “flawed” according to Dr. Ellen Hendriksen.

  1. Our anxiety: We fear that others will notice the physical signs of anxiety we may be exhibiting, whether it be blushing, sweating, our hands shaking. We may refrain from holding drinks, and or attempt to ease our anxiety through the use of alcohol to conceal these symptoms.
  2. Our appearance: We believe that there is something shameful about how we look. We may go to great lengths to conceal our perceived flaws by wearing make-up, or spending significant amounts of time on our appearance.
  3. Our character: We question our whole personality, and feel fundamentally deficient in some way, we’re not “cool”, “funny”, “articulate”, or “competent”.
  4. Our social skills: We perceive ourselves as being “awkward”, and that we won’t have anything to say, that we don’t make sense, and that no one will understand what we are saying.

How does social anxiety affect our lives?

Social anxiety can pose serious challenges to the hopes and dreams we may have for ourselves and the lives we wish to create. It may hold us back from pursuing the type of work we wish to do, leaves us feeling isolated, unseen, and lonely, and therefore cut off from potential friends and romantic partners.

Finding relief from social anxiety

The journey begins by viewing yourself with compassion and kindness. There is a harsh inner critic who assumes the worst, and relentlessly points out the way you feel you have “failed” at a social interaction. Working with a therapist who shows you compassion can help you to begin to internalize it.

A therapist can help you in exploring the specific fears that are central to your social anxiety, how your social anxiety came to be, and to begin challenging the negative beliefs you have about yourself.

If you wish to begin your journey, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Warmly, Hannah Peirce, MSW RSW

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For further reading on the topic, I highly recommend the following book: "How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety” by Ellen Hendriksen

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