Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do You Feel Awkward in Social Situations?

Social anxiety
Fear of people
Social phobia

It goes by many names. Surprisingly, up to 80% of people have experienced it at one time or another. And as many as 40% say that social anxiety is currently inhibiting their relationships, career ambitions, and/or self-esteem.1

Social anxiety looks different for everyone. Some people are afraid of public speaking yet feel comfortable interacting one-on-one. Others shine in front of large, anonymous crowds, but have a hard time opening up to individuals. And still others are terrified of any and all social situations.

Social Anxiety Symptoms

If you are socially anxious, you might experience some of the following in social situations2:

  • Physical Sensations

    • Racing heart
    • A lump in your throat
    • Excessive sweating
    • Shaky voice
    • Chest pain
    • Nausea, diarrhea, or “butterflies” in the stomach
    • Hot flushes or chills
    • Blushing

  • Behavior

    • Turning down invitations and making excuses to avoid social situations.
    • Never answering questions in class
    • Arriving late or leaving early to avoid making small talk
    • Offering help with the dishes at a party in order to avoid talking with others
    • Not answering the phone
    • Avoiding eye contact and talking quietly
    • Wearing makeup to cover up blushing
    • Having a couple glasses of wine before going on a date

  • Thoughts

    • It's essential that everyone likes me
    • If someone rejects me, I deserve it
    • If I make a mistake at work, I'll be fired
    • I'll make a fool of myself if I give a presentation
    • People can tell when I'm nervous. I should be able to hide my anxiety symptoms.
    • People find me unattractive boring, stupid, lazy, incompetent, weird, weak, etc.
    • Anxiety is a sign of weakness

How Do I Know I Have a Problem?

It's normal to experience shyness from time to time. To determine whether you are suffering from social anxiety, simply ask yourself whether your shyness has significantly impacted your quality of life. Have your relationships, work, or health suffered from your fear of social situations or public speaking?

How to Heal Social Anxiety

The good news is that social anxiety is treatable. Some treatments include: cognitive therapy, medicine, social skills training, relaxation exercises, and exposure to feared situations.

One of the best ways to lessen social anxiety is through drama therapy. By role-playing situations you're afraid of, your anxiety will wane. As with many things, practice is integral to improving social anxiety. Drama therapy allows you to face your fears and practice new skills in a supportive environment.

If you would like to start on your path of recovery from social anxiety, here are a few actions you can take:
1Zimbardo, P.G.(1990). Shyness: What it is, What to Do About It. Da Capo Press.

2Antony, M.M., & Swinson, R.P. The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven, Step-By-Step Techniques for Overcoming Your Fear. Second Edition. Oakland, CA: New Harbringer, 2008.

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