Social anxiety is the intense fear of social situations and interacting with strangers. These social situations can include meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store. Some socially anxious people are labelled ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ as children because they don’t enjoy going to gatherings, or some have had the experience of having meltdowns in public. This can be terrifying and isolating, especially when you don’t know why you are experiencing it. Social anxiety can also triggers panic attacks in some people, which can further trigger anxiety in the future because of fear of judgement from others.
While feelings of anxiety in social situations are a very common experience for many, it can be quite debilitating for some. For someone with anxiety, it can be like being an actor- you have to perform when you are ‘onstage’ in the presence of certain people. And you can relax ‘offstage’ when you are alone or with people you can be completely yourself with. The range of social anxiety also varies by individual and situation. Like actors, some experience stage fright or an intense dread before a performance and some experience minimal nervousness.
Social anxiety can range from a fear of public speaking to a sense of dread over minor interactions with others. Often beneath the anxiety and fear lies a deeper sense of inadequacy. Fears of being negatively evaluated or acting inappropriately around others make avoiding all interactions a tempting option but it can result in a sense of disconnection for the individual.
How can Counselling help?
It can be especially challenging for someone experiencing social anxiety to seek out a counsellor for help. We know how difficult it can be to open up and confide in a stranger. But you don’t have to suffer alone in silence. Find the time to look for the right therapist for you, give yourself time and patience to open up to the therapist and avoid placing expectations on yourself about how you should ‘be’ in the counselling room. You can also consider online therapy and get support in the comfort and safety of your own home. Although opening up in therapy is never easy for those with social anxiety, the rewards of doing so can be many!
Leary, M. R., & Kowalski, R. M. (1997). Social anxiety. Guilford Press.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
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