"Social Anxiety" - a term you may be hearing more often these days as the reality of re-entering social settings becomes more and more imminent. So are these feelings of angst you're experiencing social anxiety? Does social anxiety only pertain to social events, or does it seep into the work environment too?
We sat down with Frame therapist Alyssa Mancao to unpack this term and answer questions from our community.
Q: I'm the type of person that always gets nervous around new people, especially at parties and social gatherings. Does this mean I have social anxiety? Can you tell me what social anxiety is?
Alyssa: So based on this information only this actually sounds quite normal to get nervous around new people or going to parties and social gatherings. This is actually a common experience amongst most people. What characterizes a social anxiety is this intense fear about making a mistake, getting made fun of being judged and people not liking you. Right? So most people feel nervous when they go somewhere where they're not going to know anybody. That's a pretty healthy experience to have. So what social anxiety looks like is when that fear becomes so intense and so strong that it prevents you from actually enjoying the party or the gathering when you get there. Social anxiety can also look like going to gatherings and then leaving early because you have this fear or belief that people are judging you, or you have this fear of belief that you're going to say something wrong.
Another component of social anxiety that isn't really seen during the event is when you go home, there's kind of this rumination about how did that go? Did I say something wrong or people judging me? What are they thinking about me? So there is a huge psychological component with social anxiety. That looks a lot like a fear of making mistakes or being judged.
Q: What can social anxiety look like? What are the signs I should look for to know that this is something I have?
Alyssa: Social anxiety looks like being afraid to enter any kind of social situation. So it doesn't even have to be a party or gathering. It can be: not wanting to go to the grocery store, struggling with going to work, struggling with going to school, struggling with going to get lunch with your coworkers. Social anxiety really looks like the deep fear of being around anybody.
It doesn't even have to be a large crowd. It can be a smaller crowd signs to look for with social anxiety are, how am I feeling when I'm, when I'm around people? Am I feeling nervous and they're feeling scared? Am I feeling fearful? Check in with your thoughts. What are some of the thoughts that I'm having when I'm entering a crowd? Common thoughts associated with social anxiety are that nobody likes me. Everybody's going to judge me. I'm going to say something stupid. Somebody's going to make fun of me, things like that, things where you are assuming that things aren't going to go well, and it's going to be all because of you. So that is a, that is a major component of social anxiety.
Q: Why do we get social anxiety and what types of situations trigger it?
Alyssa: It honestly depends on each person, sometimes people can get social anxiety based on a history of trauma. So if they experienced any kind of situation in the home or at school that might get internalized as feelings of nervousness and lack of self-confidence, that then translates into how they experience other people in social situations.
What we do know about anxiety, it is that it can also be biological. So if we had a parent that had any forms of anxiety, OCD, or compulsive behaviors, we can also, we learn those behaviors and we can develop social anxiety. And there's also a genetic component to anxiety. And if we had anybody in our family that had experienced anxiety, that can be internalized too and can develop into social anxiety. Well, forcing myself into difficult anxiety producing situations helped me get over my social anxiety. The short answer is yes, it can.
In therapy, these are called exposures. So the more that you expose yourself to anxiety provoking situations, the more you'll actually realize that the thoughts that are coming up for you with regard to the anxiety they don't end up coming true, right? But you need to be able to expose yourself to those situations in order to test those hypotheses.
What social anxiety does is it makes you either not want to go to situations or functions and it makes you also want to leave those situations early. So when we do things like that, we're actually reinforcing the anxiety and the anxiety actually grows. In order to heal or get over the social anxiety, you actually do have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. But before doing any of that, it's actually also very important to learn coping skills to manage the anxiety when you're in anxiety inducing situations. This can look like deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, meditation, and tools like that.
For additional resources and education, browse Frame's content library on coping skills for anxiety.
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