Social anxiety is an umbrella term that performance anxiety sites under. It represents the anticipation of a social situation either during or after the situation itself. It is based on fear of evaluation. Positive or negative evaluation, depending on the person. If you experience social anxiety, you’ll perceive negative consequences regardless of how well or poorly you do. If you do too well, you may show up your coworkers or friends. The last thing you want is to stick out and be noticed. Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses in the U.S. There are about 40 million adults affected by anxiety. It can be something very specific like performance anxiety or it can be triggered in less obvious ways. Social anxiety can be controlled through a variety of tools. You can learn to control emotions and reduce the anxiety.
Repercussions of Social Anxiety
If you’re suffering from social anxiety like OCD or performance anxiety, you’re likely missing out on a normal life. To manage social anxiety disorder symptoms you may be behaving in negative ways. Here are some of the effects of social anxiety:
- Drug or alcohol addiction due to abuse in order to numb the anxiety.
- You don’t have friends.
- Teens may drop out of school.
- Unable to work and make money.
- Missing out on opportunities for advancement.
- You’re prevented from doing things you enjoy.
- Self-esteem and self-confidence is negatively affected.
- Lonely evenings when you could be out having fun.
Triggers for the Onset of Social Anxiety Symptoms
There are certain experiences that will cause someone with social anxiety to become acutely stressed out. These include:
- Being introduced to people they don’t know.
- Being teased.
- Being the center of attention.
- Being watched.
- Having to speak in front of a group.
- Meeting authority figures or perceived “important people.”
- Not knowing what to say in a social situation.
- Becoming easily embarrassed.
- Making eye contact.
- Swallowing when it’s quiet.
Symptoms of Social or Performance Anxiety
Millions of people suffer from social anxiety and performance anxiety. The effects of social anxiety are variable. The fear inside can lead to physical manifestations that create even more fear. It’s a downward spiral once anxiety hits you before the situation in question. Between shakes and cold sweats, we react to this intense fear of being seen and then judged. Athletes, actors, and public speakers are constantly dealing with performance anxiety. Teens may experience this with antisocial disorders. The symptoms mimic a real danger to the body. The type of fear that can occur in social or performance anxiety causes the body’s fight or flight response to kick in. The mind causes the body to overreact as though you were at serious risk. The body is essentially shutting down so you can either run away or fight. Symptoms anxiety disorder symptoms include:
- Fast breathing.
- Racing pulse you can hear in your ears.
- The throat tightens.
- Hands, knees, lips, or your voice might tremble.
- Cold and clammy hands.
- An uneasy feeling in the stomach.
- Blurred vision.
7 Smart Ways to Overcome Social Fear and Performance Anxiety
Social anxiety causes you unnecessary grief that can create a down spiral. You may use your own unhealthy methods to deal with the effects. There are some positive steps you can take to minimize the effects of social anxiety. Instead of shying away from situations, you can learn to confront fears and vulnerabilities. It takes time to accept yourself and not feel as though you need to prove something. There are steps you can take and tools for dealing with performance anxiety.
1. Understand Social Anxiety
It’s important to see social anxiety for what it really is. Anxiety is our response to danger. You feel at risk of being seen and noticed. It’s normal and we all experience it to some degree. We have always been a social species and in the past, we depended on each other to survive. When we’re afraid of being judged, it keeps us acting in a way to stay harmonious within our tribe. Your parents may have been a cause of your social anxiety if they were critical of outsiders. This could be a learned experience for you. When you understand that anxiety is normal, you can begin to accept it in yourself.
2. Remain Calm
When you anticipate a moment you’re not in, it’s known as anticipatory anxiety. A cycle you may get caught up in is getting nervous and being nervous. This causes the fight/flight response to kick in which is challenging to stop. The adrenaline has been released into your body and it causes all the symptoms of social anxiety to occur. Remaining calm before the stress responses occur allows you to look at it logically. It’s not about being positive but being realistic.
Breathing therapy which is a part of relaxation therapy has proven to be a viable solution to anxiety disorders. When you experience a trigger, you will automatically hold your breath. This is only holding all the tension inside of you. Learning to breathe through stressful social anxiety will allow you to quickly calm the parasympathetic nervous system. This is what is responsible for releasing adrenaline and causing anxiety in the first place. It’s good to practice breathing deeply before you go into social situations. A simple practice is to breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 3, and breathe out for a count of 5. The act of counting while breathing deeply can take your mind off the source of stress, preventing rumination.
4. Shift Your Focus
Social anxiety causes instant tunnel vision. All your senses are coping with what you’re experiencing internally. The racing heart, the shaking hands, the concern that everyone can see you’re losing it. This causes your anxiety to increase. Shifting your focus away from the experience means you’re not feeding into it. Focus on neutral factors like the color of the wall paper or the feel of the glass in your hand. Studies have proved that when you can shift your attention, it improves how you cope with social anxiety disorder.
5. Mindfulness Therapy
Anxiety isn’t based on reality but the running dialogue in your mind feeds you thoughts that affect how you feel. Social anxiety symptoms all come from thoughts that alert you there is a danger. The mind over traumatizes a situation, making you act on a perceived danger that isn’t there. All of the anxiety symptoms start with a thought but through practice of mindfulness, you can take control of those thoughts. The minute you experience a negative thought, you have the power to manage where that thought goes. Will it absorb into you and create unnecessary drama or will you accept it and move on? Mindfulness is a therapeutic tool used to ease symptoms of all types of anxiety. It can be used to relax you daily and can also be used at the onset of a social anxiety attack. It can even be used for dealing with performance anxiety. The thoughts that produce your anxiety are distorted and exaggerated. The whole room is not staring at you and you don’t stick out. Being mindful enough to see that your mind is feeding you unreal feedback will begin to show results in how you handle your social anxiety.
6. Social Anxiety Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most studied approach for social anxiety. It has been shown to be an efficient way to reduce symptoms. Part of the treatment should include active behavioral group therapy. This allows patients to work through anxiety hierarchies in the group. Part of therapy should include writing a hierarchy list of 10 things that cause your anxiety to spike. Then you rate the severity from 1 – 10. Starting with the easiest behavior or situation in your safe group setting will help you to walk through your fears. When you’re willing to deal with the discomfort of the social anxiety, you break down the mental walls you put up. By standing in the middle of the storm, you are rewarded with living how you want without being held back by anxiety.
7. Medication for Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Medication for social anxiety disorder includes anxiety medications like Propranolol for stage fright or Inderal for social anxiety. Used as a short-term relief from social anxiety, it reduces symptoms of anxiety like sweating and general tension. Professional counseling and holistic social anxiety treatment should continue when you’re taking medications for anxiety. Identifying the anxiety you have and provoking that anxiety in a safe setting will start to alleviate the anxiety that’s been running your life. Anxiety is rarely seen by anyone else. You may think that all eyes on the room are looking at you but usually this is not the case. Even if you are showing physical social anxiety symptoms, it doesn’t mean people will judge you for it. Anxiety leaves you with unrealistic thoughts which manifest into various symptoms. The thoughts can be changed through cognitive behavioral therapy. You can use holistic tools to get you past moments of panic. Being willing to deal with your fears will make them much less prevalent in your life.