Most of us get nervous from time to time when in new social situations. A combination of nerves, excitement, and newness can send rushes of adrenaline through our bodies when going to a party or meeting a new person. This is totally normal.
Unfortunately, sometimes these nerves can push someone over the edge to the realm of social anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder sometimes referred to as “social phobia”, is a real, diagnosable mental health disorder that affects an estimated seven percent of people in the U.S.
This disorder can make simple tasks like getting groceries or going to the post office a source of anxiety. People with social anxiety may have difficulty going to school or work, and avoid social situations. It’s not uncommon for people with social anxiety to have panic attacks when they encounter a trigger. This is an incredibly scary and uncomfortable experience, that may hinder them from going about their daily lives.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Here are some signs you may be experiencing social anxiety:
- Feeling “trapped” This may be when you’re speaking to someone, or anxious about going somewhere with people.
- Inability to speak in certain situations. Feeling like your voice is stuck.
- Panic attacks or physical sensations when in certain triggering social situations. These can include dizziness, stomachache, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, feeling tense, or an “out of body” sensation.
- Fear of being judged, or the constant worry of being judged. You may constantly make assumptions about others’ intentions towards or interpretations of you.
- Feeling of being watched by others, like you’re living in a fishbowl.
- Difficulty dating, or forming romantic and intimate relationships.
- History of emotional abuse, from a parent, partner, or possibly from being bullied in school.
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Difficulty with small talk and daily conversations, or avoiding them altogether.
- Physical reactions like blushing, sweating, or shaking during conversations, or in anticipation of them.
- Family history of social anxiety or other mental health disorders.
- Feeling uncomfortable around people you used to be fine with, like family or old friends.
Social anxiety can manifest differently in everyone. Some people may only be triggered by certain scenarios or in certain settings, while for others it may be generalized. Either way, if it’s keeping you from living a normal life, it’s time to take the steps towards healing.
Getting to The Root of It
If you feel like social anxiety is interfering with your ability to carry on conversations and develop meaningful relationships, first off – you didn’t do anything wrong. You are absolutely worthy and capable of connecting with people.
Social anxiety is not a personality defect.
You can start to understand your process with some self reflection.
- When did these symptoms start?
- Can you tell what feelings are underneath them? Low self worth? Wanting to be accepted? Difficulty with change?
- What social settings are the most and least triggering for you?
- What tools are most helpful when social anxiety comes up?
Self Healing Tools
Like any mental health disorder, you may find the most help in healing social anxiety by using a variety of methods – some of which you can do on your own.
Tools like breathwork, yoga, meditation, gardening, being creative, spending time in nature, and anything else that helps you feel grounded, and regulates your nervous system, can also help you deal with social anxiety.
It’s just as important to take daily steps in helping you stay balanced, as it is to have tools to lean on when you feel triggered. Something as simple as breathing, reminding yourself that you are firmly planted on the earth, and repeating an affirmation like “I am safe”, can help ease you through moments of anxiety.
While there are plenty of ways you can practice self-healing tools, we absolutely encourage you to seek help from a skilled provider who knows how to support you through this process.
Given that social anxiety is a mental health disorder, your first step may be seeing a licensed mental health provider like a therapist or counselor.
Your provider may use a variety of modalities like EMDR or cognitive behavioral therapy. They may recommend social anxiety support groups. In some cases, they may refer you to a psychiatrist who you can discuss the possibility of prescriptions like anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants with.
Other holistic health professionals may be able to help you as well. Any provider that has experience in treating mental health issues can be useful when it comes to social anxiety. This could be acupuncturists, herbalists, and naturopathic doctors.
If you are struggling with social anxiety, remember: You are not your social anxiety. You are capable and worthy of having meaningful connections. You will heal and get through this.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.