Do I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?
If you are reading this then maybe being around people feels scary. Maybe your experience of social anxiety is relatively mild. In social situations, you might feel anxious in the beginning and then slowly start to relax, especially if you find someone nice to talk to.
On the other end of the spectrum are feelings close to terror in anticipation of attending a social event. This could be an occasion where you will know most of the people or something where there will be a lot of strangers. The actual situation is less important than your overwhelming fear of being around people, full stop!
Feeling Nervous is Normal
Many people may feel a little uncomfortable about being around others that they do not know. If they are with a partner, they will stay close to their side until they start to feel more comfortable to talk to others. This is quite common.
I think that people who are able to enter any kind of social situation and feel perfectly at ease are in the minority. If it is an occasion where they do not know anyone, the super confident person might just stand and watch others mingling until someone comes into sight that they feel they would like to talk to. Or they could just walk into the room, perhaps get a drink, and not necessarily alcohol, and just walk up to a group of strangers and join in.
I am making a point of mentioning this as there are really very few people who can do this. A certain degree of reserve or shyness is normal and appropriate. Another fear that is also very common is fear of public speaking or even just making a comment in a group meeting. So clearly many people do feel a bit socially anxious at times but it does not significantly interfere with their life.
Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobias are Immobilising
However social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, becomes a problem when you start to feel immobilised being around people. You might experience ongoing, intrusive thoughts about new situations that might present themselves.
Maybe even just going into work and being around others can trigger these fears. Perhaps you avoid meeting up with your colleagues for morning tea in the leisure area of your office as you find it hard to contribute to the daily office banter. So you rather stay at your desk and continue working while you can hear everyone else enjoying some social time during their busy work day.
Social Anxiety in the Festive Season
At this time of the year, as the festive season approaches, your difficulties could escalate. There will be more invitations to attend functions with the likelihood of there being many people present that you do not know. You might possibly make excuses not to attend, preferring to isolate at home where at least you feel safe and free of the terrible anxiety. Sadly the avoidance serves to reinforce the fears you have around social situations and a vicious cycle develops.
Social Anxiety is Treatable
Your social anxiety is treatable. As with all issues at Zetland Psychotherapy, part of our early work is to get a full history of the problem, including a family history. Often socially anxious parents can, unintentionally, produce socially anxious children.
One of most effective ways of dealing with social anxiety is through graded exposure to situations that make you anxious. Under our guidance you slowly challenge yourself to take small risks and expose yourself to anxiety provoking situations. We start at a gentle pace and our goal initially may be to only stay for half an hour. At the next session we would talk about how that felt and would work on other small, manageable challenges.
It could even be as simple as joining your colleagues for morning tea a few times without any pressure to say anything. The value would be to learn to feel comfortable just being there. Making conversation would be a challenge for a few weeks later. The idea here is baby steps, while being supported throughout, until you start to feel more at ease around people. At first the tasks that we jointly agree upon to do may feel terrifying. That is ok, you will be able to debrief at the next session.
Treating Social Anxiety with Medications
If the steps described above sound too daunting, then we might need to think about some medication to assist you to engage more productively in the treatment process. Your GP would be able to prescribe something for you.
Social anxiety disorder is quite common, yet responds well to the appropriate treatment. There is a great sense of delight for both yourself, and your therapist, when progress is being made and you start realising that hanging out with people can be fun!