What is Social Anxiety?
A party. A talk. A workshop. A gathering with unknown people. Eating in front of strangers. Conversing with extroverts. Confrontations with shop owners etc. Standing up in a class to answer or ask a question. Singing in public( god forbid such a curse should befall anyone).
All these events have the potential to make me breakout into a cold , profuse, just taking a quick shower, kind of sweat. As a childhood sufferer of social phobia, life has not been easy. I dreaded birthday parties and at times, I would go to the party, hangout in the vicinity and return home with heroic tales of social popularity. Of course social popularity has and always will be a fantasy for this quiet, introverted, bookworm but now, with some psychotherapy, I am able to have a normal life. I attend parties, chat, and even, GASP, appear to be an outgoing and warm person. Infact, recently someone complimented me on my social skills( really?!). But regardless of all that, nothing beats a quiet non social evening at home writing this blog post.
Social Anxiety is characterized by :
- Fear of being judged in social situation
- Discomfort being with unknown people
- Irrational Anxiety in public situations
- Irritability and anger before going to a social event
- Avoidance of places where one would like to go
- Fear of humiliation, embarrassment and judgement by other people
- Self consciousness that doesn’t ease with time in social situations
- Impact on personal relationships and work
People with social anxiety disorder usually experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
- Being introduced to other people
- Being teased or criticized
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched while doing something
- Meeting people in authority (“important people”)
- Most social encounters, especially with strangers
- Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something
- Interpersonal relationships, whether friendships or romantic
This list is certainly not a complete list of symptoms — other feelings have been associated with social anxiety as well.
The physiological manifestations that accompany social anxiety may include intense fear, racing heart, turning red or blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling (fear of picking up a glass of water or using utensils to eat), swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches, particularly around the face and neck.
DO YOU HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY?
|Editor’s note: The SPIN has been extensively validated and found to be a reliable and consistent measure of social phobia (now called social anxiety). It is responsive to change over time and can be used to follow treatment response. It can also be used for screening potential sufferers. The version given here is designed for subjects over 18 years.
Please place an x corresponding to the answer that best describes how much the following problems have bothered you during the past week.
|Not at all
|A little bit
|1. I am afraid of people in authority
|2. I am bothered by blushing in front of people
|3. Parties and social events scare me
|4. I avoid talking to people I don’t know
|5. Being criticized scares me alot
|6. Fear of embarassement causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people
|7. Sweating in front of people causes distress
|8. I avoid going to parties
|9. I avoid activities in which I am the center of attention
|10. Talking to strangers scares me
|11. I avoid having to give speaches
|12. I would do anything to avoid being criticised
|13. Heart palpitations bother me when I am around people
|14. I am afraid of doing things when people might be watching
|15. being embarresed or looking foolish are among my worst fears
|16. I avoid speaking to anyone in authority
|17. Trembling or shaking in front of others is distressing to me
A SPIN score of 19 has been found to distinguish reliably between patients with social phobia and controls (Connor et al., 2000 Psychometric properties of the Social Phobia Inventory – New self-rating scale Br. J. Psychiatry 176: 379-386)
Managing Social Anxiety:
Seek professional help if you feel you may have social anxiety. Remember anyone who asks you to face your fears has no clue what they are doing. We socio-phobics have faced enough situations to know it doesn’t get better. When you are in the midst of a social situation, it seems hopeless but it need not be that way forever. Many countless people, including myself have overcome social anxiety and so can you. For that, you literally need to change your neural pathways, and that takes time. CBT is one of the MOST effective methods for reducing social anxiety but it takes hard work. The exercises might seem repetitive but doing them over and over can help immensely.