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What is Social Anxiety?

Reading time: 4-6 minutes

Someone who has social anxiety (sometimes known as social phobia) experiences a lot of fear or anxiety around social situations. This can make it difficult to meet and talk to people, go out with friends, venture into public places, go to work or school, or any other situation which may involve interacting with, or being around, other people.

If you struggle with social anxiety, the fear may be so intense that you avoid any form of socialising. This can impact your everyday life, from speaking to someone on the phone to popping to the shop. Because of this, it may be very hard for you to reach out and ask for help. Remember that you’re not alone – there are people who understand what you’re going through and can help you get the support you need.

What can it feel like?

If you have social anxiety, you may spend a lot of time worrying about a social situation, regardless of whether it’s already happened or not. You may be scared of other people judging you negatively or being offended by what you do or say, and you may be worried about appearing anxious, such as blushing or tripping over your words. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, the physical effects of social anxiety can include:

  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Feeling sick
  • Painful stomach
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Urge to flee the situation

Social anxiety can affect your everyday life, as well as your mental health and wellbeing. It can:

  • Take a toll on your self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Increase feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Make it challenging to start and maintain relationships
  • Affect your ability to go to work, school, college or university
  • Cause you to overthink every social interaction

You may currently be feeling some social anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is completely understandable - most people will probably be feeling this to a certain degree! You might be worried about people walking too close to you when you’re out and about, or maybe you feel stressed about standing in line at the supermarket and making sure that you adhere to all of the rules.

There are plenty more reasons why you might feel increased levels of anxiety during this time, but know that you’re not alone. The pandemic has certainly affected us all in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a couple of years ago, so it’s ok to feel a bit (or very!) on-edge. Make sure that you’re not too hard on yourself if you’re finding it tricky to remember all of the rules and give yourself permission to take it slow if need be.

What might help?

It may feel like your social anxiety is out of control at times, but there are several things that you can do to make things a bit more manageable. We’ve listed a few of them below:

  • Talk to someone. You’re never alone! Let someone know how you’re feeling and talk to them about your social anxiety. Getting things out in the open can make you feel more in control of your feelings. If you tell someone close to you, they’ll be aware of your anxiety and can support you through any challenging moments or events.
  • Relax and breathe. We know – it’s easier said than done! But if you can, try to focus on relaxing your muscles and taking slow, deep breaths whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation. Focus on the here and now, rather than what might happen. It can also be helpful to concentrate on the sounds and sensations around you.
  • Prepare. If you know that a social situation is going to make you really anxious, you can take some time to prepare for it. This could involve doing a meditation before going out to meet friends, or going over the schedule of a work event so that you know what’s to come.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Imagine talking to yourself like you’d talk to a friend. If they were in your position, what would you tell them? You can also challenge negative thoughts by asking yourself if there’s any solid evidence that what you’re worried about is actually happening (or will happen in the future). As humans, we’re great at seeing things which aren’t actually there!
  • Limit things like caffeine, sugar and other drugs. They can sometimes make your social anxiety worse.

Where to go for more support

If you have social anxiety, we understand that you might feel very alone. Taking the first step to getting help can be intimidating but there are lots of places you can go for support:

  • Seek support from 42nd Street. If you’re struggling with social anxiety, you may find it easier to chat to someone online via text. You can do this by registering for ongoing online support via our online support portal or attending one of our drop-in sessions, where you can speak to a worker without an appointment.   We provide several face-to-face and online services, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what’s best for you. Every service provides you with someone who will listen, acknowledge your feelings, and work with you to better manage your social anxiety. You can read about our services here.
  • Visit The Mix for lots of resources and videos on anxiety, including ways to cope with social anxiety.
  • Childline has plenty of information on coping with anxiety, including social anxiety. If you’re under 19, are feeling overwhelmed or just want to talk to someone, they have a 1-2-1 chat service where you can talk to a counsellor online via messaging. There’s also the option to phone their helpline on 0800 1111.
  • AnxietyUK has lots of resources for dealing with different types of anxiety, as well as email support and live chats. You can also call their helpline on 03444 775 774.
  • Visit a GP. If your social anxiety is having a big effect on how you live your life, it might be a good idea to talk to your GP. They’ll be able to discuss potential forms of treatment and figure out the best way to support you.

By: Ruby Guyler

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