The effect Social Anxiety has on us.
Social Anxiety effects roughly 14% of Irish people at some stage in their lives
“The fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people” …that’s a common definition of Social Anxiety disorder. Well, that’s great. So much of modern life relies on social interaction. Even if it was a good idea (which it absolutely isn’t, by the way), how can we avoid all things social, and still live a full and meaningful life?
How do we go about our lives, in work, at the shops, at the gym, on a night out, and avoid interacting with people? I mean, it’s possible to limit social situations to an absolute minimum, but then the ‘full and meaningful life’ piece becomes tricky. We are social animals after all, and social connection is an important human need. Continually running away from, or constantly, painfully struggling in social situations can really have a negative impact on our lives.
Who doesn’t get anxious around public speaking, or a little nervous in a room full of people we don’t know? This is pretty common. But social anxiety is something different. It effects roughly 14% of Irish people at some stage in their lives (1 in 7 of us). A core feature of the disorder is a “marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur”. For a lot of us this definition would fit with our everyday working life. Being the centre of attention, such as talking in a meeting, or having others acknowledge our birthday, as happens in many offices, can also provoke anxiety.
Most people experience fear, nervousness and apprehension at times in their relationships with others. individuals with social phobia, however, expect the situation to go badly. They think that being judged harshly or humiliated is inevitable. Even when thinking about a social situation, the sufferer can experience a strong sense of fear or dread. This thinking invariably leads to predictions of judgement and negative evaluation from others, which in turn will be humiliating. Although the anxiety can occur in any social situation, some of the main triggers would be:
- Attending an interview
- Giving a presentation
- Having to say something in a formal, public situation (speaking in a meeting)
- Being teased or criticized
- Being the centre of attention
- Meeting other peoples’ eyes
- Being watched or observed while doing something
- Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking)
- Being assertive with others
- Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (Lunch – “I don’t know what to say.”)
- Being introduced to other people, or introducing yourself to others
- Being appraised
- Meeting people in authority (“important people/authority figures”)
- Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
Each situation above can have a high potential to occur on a regular basis in the working environment. So, work itself can be a major trigger for our fears. Indeed, Social Anxiety can hold us back from working to our potential and progressing in work. People who suffer from social anxiety tend to be grossly underemployed given their intelligence and abilities. They are also more likely to be working in jobs that are less skilled than their capability.
Social situations cannot be the enemy, especially if we hope to make and maintain working relationships. To participate fully and progress in work, whilst being able to relax and enjoy a fulfilling work life balance, it is essential to become more comfortable in the presence of other people.
Key Physical Social Anxiety symptoms
What better way to let people know you are anxious or embarrassed than a big red face
Blushing…the gift that keeps on giving.
One of the biggest fears of the socially anxious is that we look anxious…a fear that people will actually be able to tell that we are having difficulty…it will be somehow obvious to others that we cannot cope in social situations, or we embarrass easily. Well, step forward ‘blushing’, and take a bow. What better way to let people know you are anxious or embarrassed than a big red face. It isn’t bad enough that our mind is full of all sorts of negative thoughts about our social abilities, but now our own face is working against us. I will be dedicating an entire post to blushing in the near future, as I think it needs further discussion and some tips on how to deal with it.
This can be not only uncomfortable, but also another sign to the world that we are anxious, and can lead us to walk around all day with our arms glued to our sides, for fear we show off any sweat marks.
Another outward sign that we are not at ease. Our body again betraying our anxiety to the world. Like with blushing, we cannot accurately see the results ourselves, so we are likely to over blow the impact this has on other people in our heads. We see ourselves as trembling messes, when actually the sensation feels much more visible than it actually is.
Other than the above signs, Social Anxiety kicks off the same bodily sensations as any other anxiety, and these symptoms of anxiety are all a natural part of the bodies threat system (fight or flight).
This article is just a quick introduction to social anxiety, although if you have read this far, you probably need little introduction. I will be addressing best ways to tackle social anxiety, and especially social anxiety at work, in upcoming blogs in the near future, so stay tuned.