Many people who come to me for therapy do so not out of one or another urgent matter, but because they’re unsatisfied with how they’re living their lives. They may be feeling signs of social anxiety, sadness, or be struggling to deal with family conflict. Usually, they tell me they’re “fine, but…”
Often I find that they’ve been suffering from a problem their whole lives, but simply believed it was normal. This is particularly true regarding social anxiety.
Some people believe they’re shy or awkward. That everyone feels the same fear of being judged, but others have stronger resources to cope with it.
But that’s not the case. If you’ve always considered yourself shy, and that as prevented you from living your optimal life, chances are you have social anxiety disorder (SAD). Not everyone feels this way, which is why it may be much easier for them to make friends, go to events, and speak in big groups. Once you begin to understand your social anxiety, you can begin to treat it.
To determine whether you have social anxiety, see if the following signs apply to you.
1. You Consider Yourself Excessively Shy
There are people who are shy who don’t have social anxiety. They may take a bit of time to warm up to someone new or a new situation, before they fully participate. However, you consider yourself different, in that most of the time you find it hard to participate, no matter how long you’ve known a person or how familiar you are with an event. There are certainly those who you can talk to with ease and confidence, but they are the exception to the rule.
2. You Analyse Everything You Say
No matter what you say or how you say it, you continue to think about it after the fact. Did I sound weird? Why did I say it like that? How would other people have said it? Only in situations in which you are already comfortable can you speak freely without further analysis.
3. You Blush and Sweat in Social Situations
Blushing and sweating when called upon or when speaking to others is a sure sign of social anxiety. You may even start blushing as the possibility of having to interact in an uncomfortable social situation becomes more likely.
4. You Shake and Your Voice Trembles
This often goes hand-in-hand with blushing and sweating. While you want to speak with confidence and may have even practiced what you are going to say, you struggle to say it without tripping over your words or shaking.
5. You Fear These Symptoms
One of the cruel aspects of social anxiety is that you inevitably become more anxious over the symptoms of the condition than over social interaction itself. When going into a social situation, you’re afraid that you will blush, sweat, and look awkward. You feel shame about your anxiety and shyness.
6. You’re Terrified of Embarrassment
For someone suffering from social anxiety disorder, embarrassment is the worst outcome imaginable. It may seem even worse than physical harm or monetary loss. For example, you may fear getting into a car accident mainly because you’ll have to explain to family, friends, and your insurance, what happened. This can stop you from doing many things that you want to do and that you know you can do. Instead of driving somewhere you aren’t familiar with, you stay home, for fear that you may get lost and have to ask for directions or explain why you’re late.
Fear of embarrassment can feel excruciating, and it is almost as if you choose to experience the embarrassment in the comfort of your own company rather than risking it in the presence of others.
7. You Avoid Social Situations
All of this leads to you avoiding situations you want to participate in. The potential benefits of going to a party don’t measure up to the tremendous anxiety that comes with it. Even though you know you might well enjoy it, you are risk averse and choose to stay home. The embarrassment that you imagine cannot be justified by having a good time.
8. You Obsess Over Upcoming Social Situations
Of course, no matter how hard you try, there will always be situations which are simply unavoidable. As they come closer, you become obsessed with the details, trying to control as many factors as you can and to prepare for conversations you may have to participate in. You feel anxiety in anticipation of the event.
9. You Obsess Over Perceived Failures
When you do participate in a social situation, and end up blushing, fumbling over your words, or saying something you believe sounds unnatural, you obsess over the “failure” long after the fact. You imagine that the person or people are laughing at you and telling everyone about it. You wonder if you’ll ever be able to speak to that person, or their friends, ever again.
10. You Fantasize About Your Potential Without Social Anxiety
It is common for people suffering with signs of social anxiety disorder to often think about how much better their lives might be without it. If they could only get rid of their anxiety, they would be able to enjoy parties, be confident among friends, and succeed in interviews and work situations.
The Good News: Getting Help
The great news is that social anxiety disorder isn’t who you are. You do not need to live half a life. With therapy, you can learn how to manage your anxiety, so that it no longer stops you from reaching your potential. It can be a long journey, but those who attempt it experience a lot of excitement and fulfillment along the way.