What exactly is social anxiety? Everyone’s familiar with being nervous before meeting someone new or before giving a presentation. However, most people can get through it. If the stress and anxiety about these situations becomes too much to handle they may avoid social situations altogether. Small things like making eye contact, holding small talk or being around others could seem so intimidating and scary that it’s avoided completely.
Everybody who struggles with social anxiety have different reasons for dreading certain situations. But in general, it’s an overwhelming fear of being judged from others or the risk of embarrassing oneself in front of their peers. The thought of starting a conversation with someone, asking an employee at a store a question or giving your order to the server at a restaurant could seem incredibly daunting.
How it Feels
Social anxiety is very common, especially among teens that I meet with. Often their bodies respond to social situations as though they were unsafe and threatening. That means just the thought of a dreaded interaction could bring on rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dizziness or lightheadedness, stomach trouble and gastrointestinal issues, and trouble breathing.
There is no one cause for social anxiety. Social anxiety usually becomes more of an issue around 13 years of age. Usually it’s a combination of genetics and experiences. If a close family member has anxiety and social difficulties, then they’re more at risk of having it too. If there’ve been some bad experiences such as bullying, teasing or significant embarrassing moments they could tend to pay attention to and be fearful of other social situations.
Social anxiety can prevent someone from living life to its fullest. They may avoid situations that most other people would consider normal day to day activities. When social situations are avoided it can negatively affect personal relationships and involvement in enjoyable activities. This can lead to low self-esteem, depressed mood, poor social skills, and being overly sensitive to criticism from others.
Therapy! I work with teenagers and young adults to address the negative thoughts associated with their social fears. We work to challenge old ways of thinking and identify new more helpful beliefs. We practice taking small steps towards social connection and building upon each success. As we review and evaluate how well the new approaches have worked we’re able to continually adapt our approaches and goals. Social anxiety often responds very well to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and we are able to see improvement in a brief period of time. If you’re interested in discussing if therapy would be helpful for you or a family member, please feel free to reach out to me.
Dr. Angela Steranko, Licensed Clinical Psychologist