Hey guys :) Today's post is in English because I prefer writing in this language about very personal issues. This will be kind of personal, kind of informative but still... you know.
I'm making this post because social anxiety is a part of my life. I want you to know more about it and also I would like to share my experience and some examples how it affects my life and me personally.
Social anxiety is also called social phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Its abbreviation is adequate to this topic, it’s actually sad…
Those who are not that deep into this subject say that social anxiety is simply the fear of people, being nervous in social situations such as public speaking, making new friends etc. But actually it’s much more that this.
Social anxiety is the extreme and persistent fear of being judged, evaluated negatively, laughed at, humiliated in front of others or rejected by other people. It affects all, most or a few areas of someone’s life:
especially relationships and career, not to mention everyday activities like small talks, shopping, talking to strangers, eating in public, being watched while doing something, starting a conversation which is actually the hell for me and many many more.
BUT how is it different that shyness and introversion? There are definitely some similarities but also very important differences between those terms.
Social anxiety or maybe shyness?
The difference between social anxiety and shyness is that feelings and physical symptoms of nervousness will become less intense when shy people become more familiar with the stressful situation. But if you have social anxiety, then they won’t, and those symptoms (which I’ll tell you about later) may even worsen. People with social phobia are often not shy at all! They are simply trapped in anxiety thoughts, feelings and habits and those thoughts, feeling and habits hold them back from social situations. Of course, sometimes social phobia and shyness can exist together but they don’t have to.
Also, shy person might be afraid of looking bad in front of others and a person with social anxiety just KNOWS that they will look bad for sure.
What about introversion?
Introversion is born and social anxiety is made. Introversion is part of your inborn personality. Introversion is clear - introverts prefer spending time with smaller group of people, being more alone that others, are maybe more reserved and there is no fear behind it. They don’t avoid contacts with people because they think that there is something wrong with them or they think that people consider them as stupid, a loser or something else negative like those with social anxiety do. For introverts being seen by others isn’t a performance.
There’s no anticipated judgment. You can perform your presentation with “ums” and have awkward silence in conversation and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad about you. In contrast to people with social phobia…
Social anxiety is driven by fear - a fear so strong that sometimes is beyond your ability to control. When I was or was about to be in a stressful (for me) social situation, I had a feeling that an unknown force was controlling me because I couldn’t calm down even if I wanted to and did things to help myself.
Physical symptoms of social anxiety
Those symptoms are felt in a stressful situation:
As I said before, people with social anxiety experience intense and persistent fear of being judged and are convinced that others think about them negatively. However, they are not necessarily aware of the fact that this is the reason of their panic symptoms.
Although knowing this might not change much in this person’s mind because they might still not know how to cope with anxiety and those overwhelming thoughts.
Social anxiety prevents you from living your life. You’ll avoid situations that most people consider NORMAL. You might even have a hard time understanding how others can handle them so easily (which is what I often wonder about...).
When you avoid all or most social situations, it affects your personal relationships and career. It can also lead to:
I mentioned earlier that people with social phobia have particular problems with talking to people with authority and “important people” first of all because they care much more about what they might think of them and secondly because they generally think that others do everything well, especially those who seem very self-confident.
What causes social phobia?
Before I move on to my experience as a person with social phobia and some very interesting examples, let’s now talk about the reasons of this disorder.
There are many:
You can measure your social anxiety level with Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale. There are 24 questions when you should rate a situation in terms of fear and avoidance. I took this test and my result is severe social phobia (90 points). You can check yourself on the website of National Social Anxiety Center.
Here are a few basic examples from this test:
Some more real life...
In one of my jobs (it's for now previous, but time will tell what will be next) there was a girl, a boy and a manager with whom I'm wasn't able to talk because of my anxiety. I wanted to be normal, chilled, funny but every time I was near one of them, 2 of them, all of them (whatever) I was stressed, my tongue was tangled up and I had my mind blank. I consider them as cool people and I kind of wanted to know them better, make friends or something. Every time instead of being also cool and friendly I became extremely serious, clumsy, silent and off putting...
They are all self-confident and I feel inferior to them. I realised later that it is the main reason of my social anxiety. I feel worse than most people... and I think that others think the same about me.
There was a situation when there was me, this girl and another person on a shift. I wanted to come to her and say something like "how it is going? how are ya?", start some conversation, but I was so stressed that after making a few attempts I came and ended up asking what should I do with some clothes in a box. It sounds ridiculous but this is the real life with social anxiety (on the extreme level).
Another example was very recently. I came back from my (current main) job by bus. I came in, took a seat and then this girl got on with a suitcase and started doing something on her phone.
Through all the drive I wanted to come to her and start a conversation but even though I was in a great mood and knew what to say, I was afraid of her reaction, my performance, that it would be an awkward silence after and I waited for the "perfect moment" which never came and I just didn't do anything :(
And another example... I was on a shift with this boy (we were alone in stockroom) and he asked me something about my previous job. I told him like 1 short sentence and then I rushed on a break... On the break I thought about what to say, came up to some ideas, calmed down a little but when I came back, it was too late :]/[
All 3 of them are older than me like 2 to 4 years (I'm 23). All employees are at ease with them, only I was a weirdo with distance even if I really didn't want to....
How social anxiety can be treated?
Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and sometimes pharmacotherapy based on anti-depressants is able to make you healthy and happy. It’s very unlikely to cope with this issue on your own. Mental disorders tend to create vicious circles of negative thoughts in people’s heads which even worsen their condition. There should be a voice from outside which will bring our thought to the right and healthy path.
I found also that virtual reality is helpful in treating social anxiety. I read very interesting article about it on Newsweek’s website. I translated its fragment to you:
“Virtual reality can help treat people with social phobia. Polish experts came up with the idea of using it. They have just started research that will allow you to refine the details of the therapy.
I enter the virtual world. I am at a railway station, similar to a subway in New York. I stand in the queue to checkout. Two people in front of me, a few behind me. I hope I will not be here for a long time, but I'm wrong. The queue does not move at all. Out of boredom I look around. Everything at an ordinary station. Ticket offices - only one active. Benches, travelers with bags, stairs up, probably lead to platforms. Boredom.
I take off my helmet. I do not know what therapeutic significance standing in a virtual queue will have.
- For a healthy person it is a monotonous situation, but for a patient with social phobia can be unbearable. There are disturbing thoughts in his head: "what people think about me, they probably think I'm stupid, I'm standing here and buying a ticket. They'll probably laugh at me when they hear that I want to go to Radom. Because who would go to Radom"- says Dr. Sławomir Murawiec, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. The patient continues to think: "If I was not here, the queue would be smaller, probably they are furious at me". - There are more and more of such thoughts in his mind, the imagination begins to work. He can’t stop them and then he can not stand it anymore. In the real world, he runs away from the queue, drops his helmet in a virtual machine - assures Dr. Murawiec.
Computer scientists and graphic designers have created ten scenes, showing situations that most often cause fear in people with social phobia. There is a public speaking, meeting with several people, shopping at the supermarket, a compartment on the train, talking on the phone, riding a lift and the subway. There are several stages in each scene and in each of them you have to immerse yourself in virtual reality for several seconds or a few minutes, according to the therapist's recommendations. Only then, as in a computer game, you can go to a higher level. Scenes were created with the help of patients. They also assess whether the images created by experts evoke in them the same experiences as situations in the real world.
Modern medicine only has to offer them anxiolytics and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Typical sessions consist in the fact that the patient imagines situations that arouse fear in them and analyzes them later with the therapist. The only problem is that the therapist does not know what the patient imagined. Exercises in the virtual world seem more effective.”
One more thing...
There is a fragment in this article about this patient's thoughts in the queue: "what people think about me, they probably think I'm stupid, I'm standing here and buying a ticket. They'll probably laugh at me when they hear that I want to go to Radom. Because who would go to Radom".
After reading this I realised that I don't have problem with buying a ticket or going in any direction because NOBODY NEVER TOLD ME that going somewhere IS WRONG.
However, I have the same problem as the patient in the queue while doing clothing shopping. I feel uncomfortable when my friend is shopping with me (I never shop with anyone and that's why xd) and I'm extremely stressed when I enter a shop where I know the crew there. When I pick a piece of clothing I have in mind that they judge my choice, think that what I choose is ugly and I have a horrible taste.
In my first job which was also a clothing shop, I bought nothing throughout the time I worked there... Not only because of this anxiety (but still), but also because I was fed up of looking at those clothes all the time ;p
And not so long ago I decided to go for shopping in my extra wokplace (this 2nd clothing shop where those 3 people are). I had a full extreme social anxiety attack, even before I left my house... I had to take a pill for stress (stimulating, not soothing) to calm down and be able to shop. That's ridiculous and insane. I can't get over it.
To sum up...
I hope this information help you understand how social anxiety works. You can share your thoughts and advice in the comments down below.
Have a nice day and see you in my next post!