It’s pretty common for people to feel a little anxious in front of others now and then, however some of us are more shy than others. For some, the anxiety can be so intense that it stops them from doing things they enjoy and interferes in their daily lives.
Social anxiety is when someone has feelings of anxiety and fear in response to certain social situations. This isn’t just the reasonable amount of anxiousness even the most confident of people get before a presentation or when meeting new people, but when this distress is so overwhelming that it feels as though it‘s difficult to cope. People who deal with this intense anxiety may fear being judged, criticised, laughed at or humiliated in front of others, when in what most would view as ordinary, everyday situations. For example, the prospect of eating in front of people can be daunting for some. The fear that people with social anxiety have in social situations is so strong that they feel it is beyond their ability to control. As a result, it gets in the way of going to work, attending school, or just participating in any aspect in their community.
It can also be in relation to specific situations for some people when related to a specific fear; such as being assertive at work or with their friends. Often for people who have social anxiety, that overwhelming anxiety is experienced when just thinking about the situation or remembering a previous event.
This then leads to avoiding situations they fear and if avoidance isn't possible, they endure the situation, becoming extremely distressed and may try to leave as soon as possible. This can have a negative effect on personal and professional relationships, which effects all parts of someone’s life.
Research suggests that almost 11% of Australians experience social anxiety during their lifetime and is a mental health issue that is becoming more widely aware of.
A possible link to people who suffer this form of anxiety is from having underdeveloped social skills. For example, if you feel you can’t navigate a conversation comfortably, you may feel discouraged and may worry about the next time you have to face the situation with other people.
There are simple steps people can take to improve their anxiousness including eating well, deep breathing exercises, being mindful of your emotions and taking time for yourself. Every individual is different though, so please contact your healthcare professional for help with management of social anxiety if you believe you share in any of these feelings.