What is Social Anxiety? Have you ever felt nervous when you are around other people? Many people suffer from social anxiety with an early onset during childhood. I remember when I was just a young child, I would be so scared at school sitting in the classroom for when a teacher would call on me to answer a question. I would do my best to avoid eye contact in hopes that he/she would not see me. The things I remember doing is looking down at my desk or pretend that I was focused on reading the classroom textbook. Sometimes this worked and I felt much better, but when it didn’t I was called on, my heart would be beating so fast and hard that I felt my heart was going to come out of my chest. This is a simple example of what social anxiety might feel like.
Our bodies are tuned to protect us from danger or threat. When we perceive a threat, adrenaline is released into our bodies to help us fight the threat, run away, or play dead. This is known as fight, flight, or freeze response to threat which is a natural response to keep us safe. For individuals who suffer from social anxiety, social interactions are interpreted as threat in fear of embarrassing themselves. It’s their thoughts that trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response. With social anxiety, it means that before an event, they worry about it and get that low level feeling of being nervous and tense. They probably think about ways to avoid the situation. During the event, they might experience fight, flight, or freeze symptoms (heart racing, breathing faster, feeling hot and sweating, and shaking. After the event, they tend to go over how badly they think they came across.
The vicious cycle of social anxiety begins with your thoughts and you might think something like “I won’t know what to say” or “I’ll do something embarrassing”. They may feel anxious, worried, scared, frustrated, upset, or even annoyed with themselves or others. In the situation, our heart may race rapidly, feel hot and sweaty, shaking hands or legs, breathing faster, or needing to use the restroom more frequently. Individuals in these social anxiety provoking situations are likely to find a way out of this uncomfortable situation. They may become very self-conscious and use behaviors to avoid drawing attention to themselves (look down or away, engage in their cell phones, stay in a corner away from others).
If this sounds familiar and you experience and or suffer from social anxiety, the best course of action is to seek professional help. In the meantime, there are grounding techniques that may help you manage your symptoms to avoid significant discomfort.
5-4-3-2-1: Using your 5 senses, focus on things inside or outside and describe them in detail in your mind’s eye.
Deep breathing exercises: 4-7-8 Inhale counting to 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and externally through your mouth, exhale for 8 seconds.
Count backwards from 100
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: tense different parts of your body for 10 seconds and release the tension noticing your stress melting away