10 September 2020
Do social situations fill you with fear? Does the very thought of them bring you out in a cold sweat? If so, it’s likely you have social anxiety. Social anxiety makes social situations distressing time after time. If you have social anxiety, you spend a lot of time worrying about what others think of you. This constant anxiety makes life very difficult.
You may have become less anxious in lockdown as you didn’t need to face the situations that usually cause you to worry. But now as the prospect of going back to work or education approaches, you may notice your familiar feelings of dread making a comeback.
Many people who never had difficulties with social situations before lockdown, are suddenly becoming anxious about going back into social situations.
For many of us, socialising is no longer the everyday experience it once was, something we could do almost without thinking. Now, we have become used to being at home for most of the time and have forgotten what it feels like to go out and spend time with people outside our own lockdown bubble.
Many of us have forgotten how this feels and how we have coped in the past. This uncertainty can leave us feeling anxious about what to expect and how to act.
We can probably all remember feeling nervous going into a room full of people we don’t know, or about having to talk at a meeting. Even if we are usually confident, we may have felt butterflies in our stomach, clammy hands or a dry mouth. But, then we get involved with what we are doing and the feelings go away. Afterwards, we forget about them, and the next time it is just that little bit easier.
For those of us who have developed anxiety about socialising again after lockdown, this is what is likely to happen.
For people with social anxiety, though, this just doesn’t happen. Instead, those nervous feelings get bigger, increasing time after time. Those with social anxiety spend more and more time worrying about social situations. They can’t help thinking about the ones they need to face in future, as well as churning over and over what happened in the past. The more they worry, the less they feel able to cope.
For more on how worry affects you click here
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.
These feelings are so distressing and overwhelming they feel they can’t cope. The anxious thoughts make the physical symptoms worse, and the physical symptoms reinforce social situations as scary.
The anxiety is a result of wanting to fit in and be liked. So they then start worrying a lot about what others think of them. Often they fear they will 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 will spend time worrying they will make a mistake and fearing they will be judged. This causes an intense focus on other people’s reactions, with a lot of time spent wondering how they appear and what others think of them.
People with social anxiety may have experienced a few situations where they want to run away and hide from everyone. They end up avoiding these situations as much as they can. When they can’t be avoided, they end up feeling hugely distressed. They believe they are no good in social situations and go out of their way to try and shun them.
Avoiding social situations, though, makes the problem worse. It stops the person from becoming more used to socialising. The more they escape social situations, the more they are learning to believe they can’t cope. Dodging socialising makes it even more difficult the next time, making them try to avoid it even more.
If you are feeling nervous and unsure about going back to socialising with others again, you are not alone. Even those who used to manage in social situations are finding it challenging to resume their social lives. Social distancing and mask wearing can make it more difficult to connect with others, and read social cues, leaving us more prone to judge ourselves harshly about how we have performed when we do meet with others.
For many of us, it will be a case of pushing ourselves to overcome our initial awkwardness so that we can start socialising again.
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, when it is 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. Care is taken to always work at the client’s pace. I take time to support clients to develop the skills they need to make changes. I teach ways to manage anxiety, emotions and physical symptoms so clients feel they can cope in social situations. We work together to develop self confidence and a balanced attitude to socialising.
Take Tim, for instance, who came to see me about his social anxiety. 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. In total I had just three sessions and 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!
If you have social anxiety, there are steps you can take to change. It takes courage, but it can be done.
My tips below can help you.
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.
Your body is affected by 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.
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 which needs to be learned and takes time and practice. Self Hypnosis is an effective way of learning to relax. Contact me if you would like my free self-hypnosis relaxation MP3.
People with social anxiety are often caught up in unpleasant images of 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.
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
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