When social situations are scary – social anxiety help

1 February 2019

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.

Social anxiety is more than feeling nervous

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.

Worry feeds social anxiety

For people with social anxiety, 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.

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.

Feeling unable to cope

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 need to be liked

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.

Avoiding social situations makes them more difficult

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.

Social anxiety help

There is 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.

social anxiety fear of others judgement

Self-help for social anxiety

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.

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.

Understand your body’s reactions

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.

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

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 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.

Use technology to help you

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.

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 Tunbridge Wells. For more about how I can help you click here

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