Social Anxiety is a disorder where someone is afraid or scared of social situations, where they will have to interact with others. This is not to be confused with the nerves of going for an interview or giving a speech in front of a group of people. Social anxiety can affect someone in any given situation. This is a disorder that many people suffer from. In fact, some people are not even aware that they have it. In this article I will outline some signs which may mean you have social anxiety. I will also highlight some key factors on how to manage Social Anxiety going forward.
**Full Disclosure: This post has been written from my own personal experiences, I have not been paid to write this post**
10 Signs You May Have Social Anxiety
This disorder affects different people in different ways. Some people who have social anxiety may not have the same symptoms as me. The list below gives you an indication of some of the symptoms that people with social Anxiety may have. These are specific to my own personal experience however there are other signs too. Some of these symptoms have dissipated dramatically for me over the last 2.5 years however some of them are still present today.
A few people are lucky enough to recover fully from this disorder and go on to live care free lives like they did before. Others are affected by it on a different level, and its something that they have to manage for the rest of their lives. Although my social anxiety is getting less and I’m growing more confident with each challenge I set for myself; I still feel it creeping up on me sometimes and it’s something I need to be aware of. Always. Below are the 10 signs that I have which made me become aware of my social anxiety:
- Feeling nervous around large groups of people
- Avoiding places where large groups of people congregate (eg: work, shopping malls, busy streets, arenas, etc)
- Avoiding close personal contact with anyone (isolating myself all the time)
- Sweaty underarms, palms or feet for no apparent reason
- Hot flushes or blushing for no apparent reason
- Feeling shy or intimidated around others
- Feeling the need to hide away from everyone
- Panic attacks, hyperventilating without warning
- Stuttering, or your mind going blank when someone looks at you
- Not being able to answer a question when asked directly
When The Fear Grips You…
At the height of my social anxiety, I was having on average 3 panic attacks a day. My body was constantly in flight or fight mode. I would have uncontrollable hot flushes at any given moment during the day or night. (At one point I thought maybe I was going through early menopause – it seemed the only logical explanation). I couldn’t get on a train or use the Underground. I couldn’t get on a plane. I would lock myself in my bedroom each evening or on the weekends. I would go grocery shopping at 5am or 11pm to avoid the ‘rush hour’ of shoppers during the day (I didn’t think I’d ever need to take advantage of shops that were open 24/7 but I’m very grateful they were there at the time). I would cry uncontrollably for hours in my room or in the bathroom. I felt so alone. If someone came to close to me physically, I would take a step back, away from them. It was bad. It was really bad.
For me, the only thing I could think of was to go to my GP and explain everything I was feeling and going through. I didn’t know what was going on with my body or my mind, but I knew it wasn’t right. My GP recommended a few specialists who deal with different forms of anxiety. I ended up having counselling once a week with a professional through a company called IESO Digital Health.
I was too scared to admit I was getting help, I didn’t want anyone to know how I felt or what I was going through. I was so ashamed and embarrassed of myself, of this situation. IESO was really great, they offered 1 to 1 sessions in person, over the phone or online through their interactive website. I chose the latter; it was the most convenient for me to cope with at the time.
My counsellor went through a series of questions with me and set tasks for me each week and although it was really tough and I had to address and change my mindset on a few views I had; it was really the best thing I could’ve done to help myself. I still have the log in details and access to all the sessions I had with my counsellor in case I ever have to look back over some notes again. She also gave me some helpful tools I use almost every day to manage my social anxiety and help me overcome difficult or intimidating situations.
From that point I have learnt how to gently push myself outside my comfort zone and slowly take bigger and bigger steps in overcoming my fears. 2 years ago I couldn’t stay in a meeting room with more than 5 people, even if the door was open. Now, just 3 months ago, I overcame my social anxiety of flying and I boarded an Airbus which had close to 500 people on it.
For most people this is not a big deal. For someone with social anxiety where the first thing you want to do is run away from a situation or place that has too many people; this is a massive feat to overcome. There’s nowhere to run on a plane; especially when its full! I am so proud of myself for that accomplishment and it has given me the courage to find the next hurdle to jump over.
8 Ways To Manage Social Anxiety
There are different ways to manage social anxiety. Im sure there are many more but below are a few ways which helped me through some of the toughest times.
1 Get Enough Good Quality Sleep
If you’re tired or haven’t slept well, I find the social anxiety can come on a lot quicker. Its a slippery little sucker and can sneak its way back in without you even realising it. When you’re tired its so easy to fall back into that negative thought pattern which can very quickly spiral out of control.
2 Tell Someone You Trust
Tell a few close friends (who you trust) about your social anxiety. If they are aware of your situation, they will do what they can to help. And you’ll feel a lot more comfortable if you know they’re there for you if needed. (All of my close friends are aware of my social anxiety. If I have to wait for the next elevator or the next train; they smile and nod their head and we carry on with our conversation. It buys me that little bit of extra time to prepare myself).
3 Take The Attention Off Yourself
Take the attention away from you and shine it on someone else – no one else will notice you doing this, only you will know that you’re doing it.
Ask them questions about themselves or their day or something that they are passionate about. By doing this it automatically takes the focus away from yourself and you’ll find yourself relaxing and actually enjoying the conversation.
4 Distract Yourself
Distract yourself or ask someone to help distract you with a story or a joke. If you’re on your own, find something to read or to do that will keep you busy. For me, I listen to my music, or I read an article on my phone that I’ve saved from earlier, or I reply to friends on WhatsApp. It doesn’t really matter what task you choose to do, as long as its successful in distracting you from your current situation. (This is good to use when you are in a place where you can’t get away eg a plane or a train or the busy streets of a big city!)
5 Learn How To Be Mindful
Being ‘present’ in any given situation will immediately stop your mind from worrying and entering that spiralling slippery slope of despair. Being mindful is almost the same as concentrating on one specific thing. Its quite similar to distracting yourself with an item but in this case you’re distracting your mind with the present situation.
For example; if I know I have to go to a meeting at work in a few days, I have two options: I can sit and think about the meeting and everything that could possibly go wrong with it and get completely worked up about it. Or I could concentrate on the task at hand and then later make some arrangements to prepare for the meeting: make sure all my notes are ready; my laptop is fully charged, I’m on time, I have a water bottle with me in case I get thirsty; I have a pen and notepad in case I need to make notes etc. All of these little things will help me relax and not worry or panic about the meeting.
6 Be Prepared
If you know you’re going to be doing something that scares you a little, then prepare yourself for it. For 3 months before I got on that plane I told myself every time I saw a plane in the sky: You’re going to get on a plane again and its going to be okay. And then I smiled at the thought of it. I live not too far from Heathrow Airport so I told myself this many times over! This positive reinforcement really helped me accept that I will get on a plane again and it will be okay. The first flight was 9 hours long and I made friends with a lovely man named Andy. We chatted amicably for the entire flight. We swapped email addresses and we’re still in contact now. He was on his way to New Zealand to be with his family and I was on my way to South Africa to be with mine.
7 Push Yourself Outside Your Comfort Zone – Just A Little!
For me, social anxiety is all about pushing yourself to grow, to learn, to trust yourself again. And the only way you’re going to be able to do this is by pushing yourself little by little, a little further each time. I didn’t go from locking myself in my room one day, too scared to let anyone come within arms reach of me, to getting on an Airbus filled with almost 500 people the next day. It took years (2.5 years to be exact), and in this time I pushed myself just a little more with each task I gave myself.
For example, my first task was to start shopping at normal hours again. I had to work my way up to ‘rush hour’ in the grocery store. And trust me, there were days when I wanted to run out crying. But I stayed; I found a way to get passed the uncomfortable and awkward feelings and make it work. I continue to push myself still, and I don’t think I will ever stop.
8 Listen To Your Feelings
Sometimes I still feel a little uncomfortable when there are too many people in one aisle in the grocery store. So, I look at my shopping list and find an item that I know is going to be down a quieter aisle. I go and pick up that item first and then come back to the other item in the busy aisle. By that time, I’ve had a chance to prepare myself for a busy aisle or, all of those people have dispersed and I feel more able to cope. Sometimes I feel so strong and invincible that I take a deep breath and march down that busy aisle first time round, like a woman on a mission! (to fetch cheese).
The point is you have to know your body and what you’re comfortable with. For me, some days are better than others. These days, I don’t think twice about what time I go grocery shopping. If its during the day (7am or 5pm), or what what time of the month it is (month end or payday), or what time of the year it is (Easter or Christmas). A few years ago, these times and days governed when I would go shopping, if at all. Now, I just go shopping. It took me a long time to get to this point and I’m extremely proud of how far I’ve come. But I’m always aware of how I feel in any given situation, and being true to myself helps guide me to feeling safe, happy and relaxed in any situation.
Do You Think You May Have, Or Know Someone Who May Have Social Anxiety?
If you can relate to any of the above topics, I lovingly urge you to speak to someone about it. Speaking from experience, I know what you’re going through. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Or maybe you know someone who may be showing similar signs to the ones I have written about above, reach out to them. Send them the link to this page. You may be helping them more than you will ever realise.
IESO Digital Health is based in the UK, I’m not sure if they are based anywhere else in the world but my advice to you is this: if you think you may have Social Anxiety, please know that all is not lost. There is help out there for you and you can start living your life again. Instead of this disorder dictating your life – or lack of life – to you, please seek help. Go to a friend or a professional, go to your doctor or GP, or see if there is an organisation online near you who can help. I know it’s scary, I do. But you are not alone and there are very friendly and understanding people who want to help you. This could be the first step to your recovery, reaching out and letting someone know you’re not coping.
Have you had the same or a similar kind of experience to me? Or maybe you have some further advice which may be able to help one of our readers? I’d love to hear from you, please feel free to leave your comments below.
Sending you much love and a really big warm hug,