When social situations are scary – social anxiety help

2 July 2024

Do social situations fill you with fear? Does the very thought of speaking to people you don’t know well bring you out in a cold sweat? If so, you may have social anxiety. Social anxiety makes social situations challenging, again and again. If you have social anxiety, you spend a lot of time  planning what to say and worrying about what others think of you. This constant anxiety can make your life very difficult.

You may have noticed yourself becoming more anxious as you start to socialise more over the summer.  Maybe, if you’re going into work one or two days a week, your noticing feelings of dread on those days.

Social anxiety impacts on work

If you recognise this, you may have noticed how it’s also spilling into how you feel about work.  Maybe you’ve noticed working becoming more challenging for you recently and you’re not sure why. If you’re working at home more than you go into the office, you’ve missed the feedback of others and those casual conversations which help you to feel part of a team.  Missing this and the opportunity to socialise informally with your colleagues, can make all social situations feel more difficult.  It may also have left you feeling uncertain about your ability to do your job, and working longer hours without breaks in an effort to prove how hard you’re working.

anxious about social situations

Social anxiety is more than feeling nervous

You can probably remember feeling nervous going into a room full of people you don’t know, or about having to talk at a meeting. Even if you’re usually confident, you may have felt butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands or a dry mouth. But, once you’re involved with what you’re doing, the feelings usually go away. Afterwards, you tend to forget about them, and the next time it is just that little bit easier. 

Worry feeds social anxiety

If you’re someone with social anxiety, though, this just doesn’t happen. Instead, those nervous feelings get bigger, increasing time after time. You can find yourself spending more and more time worrying about social situations. A cycle can often take hold – thinking about the scary social situations you need to face in future, as well as churning over and over what happened in the past. The more you tend to  worry, the less easy it is to cope.

For more on how worry affects you click here

Scary bodily sensations

There are physical symptoms too. In social situations people with social anxiety can feel their heart racing or their chest becoming painful or tight. They may sweat more and feel their muscles tense up. Often, they may blush when speaking or have a sudden and urgent need for the toilet. They can feel dizzy, shake, find it hard to breathe or feel faint and as if they are going to be sick. Sometimes they can feel very hot or very cold.

social anxiety hiding away

Feeling unable to cope

If you’ve ever experienced these feelings, you’ll know how distressing and overwhelming they are.  You may even remember feeling like you can’t cope. The anxious thoughts make the physical symptoms worse, and the physical symptoms send messages to your brain that social situations are scary.

Wanting to be liked

The anxiety is a result of wanting to fit in and be liked. Of course, these are normal feelings that we all have to a greater or lesser extent. But, if these normal feelings start to overwhelm you, you can end up caught up in worrying a lot about what others think of you.  You may even fear you’ll do something embarrassing in front of other people. The need to be liked creates immense pressure to do the right thing in social situations. People with social anxiety spend time worrying they’ll make a mistake and fearing  being judged. This causes an intense focus on other people’s reactions, with a lot of time spent wondering about how you appear and what others think.  This can be very tiring and can lead to you feeling drained by social situations too.

For more on how to manage your anxious thoughts check out how to stop overthinking.

wanting to fit in

Avoiding social situations makes them more difficult

If you find social situations challenging, you may have experienced times where you want to run away and hide from everyone. Very often you’ll go out of your way to avoid these situations as much as possible. When they can’t be avoided, you can end up feeling hugely distressed. Often they are so difficult because you believe you’re no good in social situations and are seeking out evidence to confirm your beliefs.  This can then lead to you going out of your way to try and shun them.

Avoiding social situations, though, makes the problem worse. It stops you from becoming more used to socialising. The more you escape social situations, the more you’re learning to believe you can’t cope. Dodging socialising makes it even more difficult the next time, and so you try to avoid it even more.

Social anxiety help

The good news is there’s help available for social anxiety. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises the NHS on which treatments to use. NICE recommends Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for social anxiety. CBT, combined with hypnotherapy is particularly effective.

When I work with clients with social anxiety we work together to change the thoughts, feelings and behaviour that are holding them back. We always work at your pace. I take time to support you to develop the skills they need to make changes. I teach ways to manage anxiety, emotions and physical symptoms so you feel you can cope in social situations. We work together to develop self confidence and a balanced attitude to socialising.

wanting to fit in

Client stories

Jenna’s problem

Jenna (not her real name), is a 53 year old legal executive and divorced mum of two. She came to me because she was struggling with social anxiety and was finding going out was becoming more and more difficult.  Jenna was working from home the majority of the time and spent a lot of time making sure she didn’t make even the slightest mistake. She would try and go into the office as little as possible. To compensate she worked long hours and covered her colleagues work without being asked to do so.

Jenna would cancel plans with friends at the last minute and make excuses not to attend meetings at work. She was gradually taking part in fewer and fewer social occasions, making excuses to herself and others about why she couldn’t attend. She would then get angry with herself for not going, and immediately worry about the next time.

Jenna’s results

We worked together to unpick Jenna feelings about herself and what was behind her fear. She learnt how to manage her feelings of anxiety so they no longer overwhelmed her. Over time  and with support, Jenna gradually began to face more and more social situations. We found ways for her to let go of criticising herself and to focus instead on feeling free and being able to express herself  as she wanted. She gradually began to feel more confident in herself and was able to take breaks at work and say no to taking on extra responsibility.

Jenna found the confidence to ask for and get a payrise. She also found the courage to apply for new jobs and attend interviews something she hadn’t been able to do before. She started sticking up for herself more at home and at work and this new found confidence made it’s way into how she acted socially. She reconnected with old friends and started going out more. Jenna even organised a social evening a work for her colleagues, something she would have avoided in the past.

In Jenna’s words

After years of anxiety, which was getting steadily worse, I decided to seek help I am very glad I did. I was feeling really low in confidence and was unable to be myself in group situations, even when there were only 3 people.

I felt at ease with Celia straight away and each week I felt my self belief getting stronger as she helped me to reframe my thoughts and gain new perspectives.  She was great in explaining how my thought processes work in a simple and understandable way. The hypnotherapy sessions were also really helpful in visualising previously difficult situations and it’s great that recordings are provided.

I have gone from thinking there was something wrong with me, to being able to distance myself from my anxiety and take on challenges that I would not even have considered a couple of months ago. I feel more capable and happy as a result. I can identify specific improvements in my work and home life which have come about directly due to my sessions with Celia.

I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now. I’ve been able to overcome some deep rooted thoughts and feelings that I thought would be with me forever and I feel confident that in the future I will be able to help myself should these arise for me again.

Tim’s problem

Tim (not his real name), a 40 year old tour guide had struggled with anxiety in social situations for as long as he could remember.  He struggled to relax and be himself in public and would agonise for ages over conversations. He was so worried about making a mistake that he would often say nothing and this would lead to people feeling he was unfriendly.  He felt it was holding him back in his chosen career and wanted to take steps to address it. 

Tim’s results in his own words

I visited Celia seeking some help with some underlying anxiety issues that needed to be dealt with, which had led to me being victim to a few uncomfortable experiences. On a positive note I had been offered a fantastic job, but I was full of fear and trepidation about accepting it, even to the point that I had convinced myself I didn’t want it.

This could not be further from the truth and I knew deep down that it was the culmination of years of anxiety that had held me back for too long. With limited time available I contacted Celia, we talked things through, then set to work. The results were fantastic.

I was able to speak publicly (I actually look forward to the opportunity to try it out and improve!), my fears about social situations have become a thing of the past and I just felt much calmer and at ease in everyday life; actively seeking out conversations and interactions. I  wasn’t sure if hypnotherapy would be effective when it came to something subtle and personal like anxiety. But it was, and I say it was one of the best decisions I have made.

I was delighted to hear back from Tim six months later, when he sent me this email.

Thanks again for your help Celia.  I just wanted to let you know that you have helped me far more than I could have hoped. 

 Arriving to work over there and meeting my colleague/manager at the airport went super smoothly and we have a good friendly relationship now. Meeting and ‘entertaining’ the clients went fine as well, with speaking publicly no big deal at all and what I found greatest of all was that I was really able to engage with people and hold lengthy conversations where I was actively involved, asking questions and not seeking a way out, or afraid to initiate the conversation in the first place. It is very subtle but absolutely a great change within me, and as time passes I can only build on it. So thank you for that!

social anxiety fear of others judgement

Change is possible

If this sounds like you, just like Tim and Jenna, you too are capable of change. It takes courage, but it can be done. When I work with clients with social anxiety, I listen to all their worries and fears about social situations and help them to see there is another way. I support them to make changes at a pace that is right for them. We work together to develop a step by step approach to being able to manage and even enjoy social situations.

If you have social anxiety, there are steps you can take to change. It takes courage, but it can be done. Try these techniques to help you.

1. Notice your thoughts

If you become very anxious in social situations you may find your thinking influences how anxious you feel. Worrying others will think badly of you, imagining people are reacting negatively to you, or dwelling on future and past events can all increase anxiety.  Stepping back from these thoughts and replacing them with more helpful ones can help make social situations less stressful. 

Whenever you notice yourself having an anxious thought about socialising try and write it down. Then look at the thought and imagine you are a detective searching for evidence for and against that thought.  You may find there is very little evidence to support what you are thinking.

2. Understand your body’s reactions

Your body responds to your thoughts. Learning to understand the physical symptoms you are experiencing is how your body reacts to your thoughts can help.  Once you understand how to recognise the early signs of tension, you are able to stop physical symptoms getting worse.

See The Benefits of Body Awareness and Fight or Flight – How your Body Responds to Stress for more.

keeping calm in uncertain times

3. Learn relaxation

Once you understand how your body is reacting, you can use relaxation techniques to help your body restore itself to a calmer state.  This reduces the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Relaxation is a skill you can learn.  Like anything new, it takes a bit of time and practice. Self hypnosis is an effective way of learning to relax.  For more on hypnosis click here

4. Use technology to help you

People with social anxiety get caught up in their mind.  Dwelling on the thoughts and images they see of themselves in their head.  Then they start worrying about how they look to others.  When mixing with others, this anxiety tends to make them focus on themselves more. They think of this image, feel anxious and believe they look terrible to others.

Using video to record yourself role playing a social situation can help you to realise you are not blushing, stammering or sweating profusely, etc.  The video can show you how your appearance is normal.

5. Learn breathing techniques

When people become anxious their breathing changes and they begin to gulp air, and may feel as if they are going to suffocate. Or, they start to breathe really quickly and feel dizzy,  making them even more anxious.

Learning to recognise this and slowing down your breathing as soon as it happens can help reduce anxiety. Check out How to Relax in Just Five Minutes a Day for a quick and simple breathing exercise to help you.

For social anxiety, I provide cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and online. For more about how I can help you click here

Would you like to make living life easier, right now? Get your free Live Life on Your Terms recording here and begin to live your life with confidence.

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