What is it like to have a social anxiety disorder?
People who experience social anxiety (a social phobia) often seek therapy to help them overcome the feelings of an intense fear of being watched, judged, and criticized by others.
It is interesting to note, from my capacity as a Psychotherapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist, and Mindset coach that the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting changes to our social distancing and our social freedom has caused an increase in both general, and social anxiety, and affected our ability to feel safe, secure and happy.
Being realistic though, as a therapist, I explain to my clients that there are many situations where it is reasonable, natural, and acceptable to feel anxious.
Anxiety is actually a gift from nature, it alerts us to potential danger and raises our attention and awareness. None of us would have survived long if we were unable to assess risk, threats, and potential danger, and take suitable measures to avoid them.
However, when our imagination runs out of control and begins catastrophizing, creating a worst-case scenario out of situations, our anxiety and fear increases.
There are three elements of anxiety.
The physical sensations you experience at the time
The emotions you activate whilst having the experience
And the thoughts and beliefs you dwell on or that go through your mind at the time.
Social anxiety is where these elements are in response to certain or all social situations, such as meeting new people, dating, eating out at a restaurant, being on a job interview, answering a question in a meeting, or having to talk to someone you don’t know.
Simply the act of doing everyday things in front of people—such as eating or drinking in front of others or using a public toilet or being on public transport can also cause anxiety or fear.
It is important to remember that the person is afraid that he or she will be the center of attention from others and will be judged, criticized, humiliated, and rejected.
It is also important to understand that social anxiety is a learned behaviour.
The person’s brain is referencing past learned experiences and making wrong associations and assumptions and drawing attention to painful emotions from the past and projecting them onto the current situation and its potential to replicate the past painful experiences.
It is really trying to protect us but in a mistaken maladaptive way.
Therefore, their strong emotions unsettle their body, make them feel ill at ease, and cause them to want to take avoiding action.
Therapy is best directed at helping people understand that by reframing their past experiences, in a relaxed state of mind, their brain can review and re-reference their experience in a more positive way.
They can then resume being in control of their responses to their environment and enjoy the things they used to do with ease and realize their full potential.