Friday, 12 December 2014

Dealing with social anxiety at this social time of year

At this time of year there can be lots of social events to attend: with carol singing; work night outs; entertaining clients; and parent get-togethers among other things, we can start to feel a bit worn out. But if the thought of interacting with others fills you with panic or dread, then it may be that you're socially anxious.

Shyness and social anxiety affect most people at some point. Often unusual events such as having to give an important speech, going on a first date, going to university for the first time and having to meet a group of new people can trigger feelings of anxiety. However these feeling usually fade. When you are continually affected by your interactions with other people, it is likely you are suffering from social anxiety/phobia.

What is social anxiety/phobia?
Social anxiety is the third most common form of psychological disorder. It is an extreme form of shyness that draws out feelings of being judged, not liked, or inferior to others. As a result, those with social anxiety may struggle to interact with people and may find it hard to make friends, meet a partner, get on at work, etc.

Types of social anxiety/phobia

Specific social anxiety: suffers are generally able to meet others socially and interact. However specific tasks such as giving a speech or eating in front of others may result in feelings of anxiety.

General social anxiety: sufferers feel anxious whenever they are around people - they may feel judged and 'on display'. This condition can be very disabling and can cause people to shy away from situations they associate with anxiety, such as the work Christmas party.

Common symptoms of social anxiety/phobia
Physical symptoms: sweating, dry mouth, blushing, trembling, palpitations, and difficulty breathing. Many people start to fear these symptoms, particularly if they have difficulty breathing, and this may bring about additional feelings of panic.

Psychological symptoms: over analysing a social situation and trying to anticipate problems; worrying about what you should have done/said in a social situation; worrying what others think of you. Often people experiencing these symptoms use drugs or alcohol as a way of relaxing and avoiding these unpleasant feelings. However, this in itself can then become a problem, so it is important to deal with the anxiety.

How to deal with social anxiety/phobia
The good news is that treatment for social anxiety/phobia is often very successful.

  • A popular and effective approach for working with people suffering from social anxiety is cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT). This involves examining your thought processes and how your thoughts impact on your mood. CBT helps you examine why you feel the way you do and helps you challenge any negative thought patterns that lead to your anxiety. 
  • Sometimes learning particular social skills such as how to initiate a conversation can be helpful for reducing feelings of anxiety.
  • There are many self-help workbooks on the market that can help you examine your thought processes and the reasons for your social anxiety. They may also suggest some strategies you can adopt to improve the situation. 
  • Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing several times a day. Over time such techniques will help relax you and should help improve your feelings of anxiety and panic.
  • Keep healthy - take regular exercise and eat a balanced diet - these factors have been shown to be beneficial for improving mood.
  • If you wish to seek the help of a CBT therapist or psychologist, First Psychology has an excellent team of professionals who have experience working with clients who are socially anxious. Visit for further details. 
  • You can also consult your GP who can often point you in the direction of someone who can help. 

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