The countdown to Christmas is on, and with it comes the office parties, family gatherings, and crowded shops. For people with social anxiety, the idea of running the gauntlet of festive busyness is a complete nightmare.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is an overwhelming fear of social situations, and sufferers usually experience anything from feelings of dread to debilitating panic attacks. Sometimes, social anxiety is a standalone condition, but more often that not, it’s closely related to existing mental health problems like generalised anxiety and depression.
Do I have social anxiety?
Social anxiety is not just ‘being shy.’ It’s a fear that can affect almost every aspect of someone’s life.
You probably have social anxiety if you:
- Dread doing things like meeting new people, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, or going to a busy supermarket.
- Tend to avoid social gatherings like parties.
- Worry that you’ll embarrass yourself in front of others.
- Don’t enjoy doing things when others are watching.
- Are afraid of being criticised.
- Tend to avoid eye contact with others.
- Have panic attacks before, during, or after being in social situations.
What are the treatments for social anxiety?
If you think you have social anxiety, speak to your GP. They’ll ask about how you feel and behave in social situations and they’ll want to know more about any symptoms you experience. Your GP will go through treatment options with you which include (depending on where you live):
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which will help you identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours you have around social situations and help you change them.
- Medication, usually an antidepressant known as an SSRI which helps manage your anxiety.
Usually, your GP will suggest a combination of medication and talking therapies.
Self-help for social anxiety
Social anxiety is a common condition, and there are things you can do yourself that can help manage your symptoms.
Understand your anxiety
Think about what your mind tells you about social situations and try to understand how this drives your behaviour. This can help you recognise which thoughts are unhelpful and what you need to work on.
Look for evidence
If you tell yourself that you’re going to go to a party and embarrass yourself, or that nobody is going to talk to you or like you, ask yourself how realistic this is, and come up with evidence for and against it. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s easy to think negatively, or only think about the worst case scenario.
Stop worrying about what others think
You know when you have a spot on your chin or nose and you’re so focused on it that you think other people notice it as much as you do? Anxiety is like that. Don’t worry about what other people think about you. When you’re in a social situation, look around. Most of the time people are so caught up in their own thoughts, or in trying to have a good time; the last thing they’re doing is obsessing over what you’re doing. They might even be feeling as anxious as you are and hoping that you’ll speak to them first!
Don’t avoid things
It can feel difficult to face your fears of social situations, but every time you avoid them, you’re telling yourself that you can’t cope. It might feel more comfortable to avoid the situation in the short-term, but in the long term, it’s only setting you up to be more anxious. Set yourself a challenge of gradually working towards doing something you’re afraid of. Start small, and work up to something that you would always usually avoid, like speaking in front of people.
Try support groups
There are some really valuable charities, support groups, and forums for people with all types of anxiety, including social anxiety.
Realise that it’s okay to be balanced
While you shouldn’t actively avoid Christmas gatherings, you don’t have to go to every single one, either. Make a resolution to go to the important get-togethers, but balance them out with a quiet night in just doing what you want. You need this at such a busy time of year anyway to stop you feeling frazzled.
How much do you know about anxiety?
Do you understand the signs and symptoms of anxiety either in yourself, or in others? Being able to see the signs and offer support can help stop the condition from becoming worse, and it can help you, or someone else get the help they need.
Our Mental Health First Aid training can help you understand some common mental health conditions and how to support someone on a first aid basis so they get the help they need a lot quicker.
Would you like to know more?
You can register your interest by using the form on our contact page. The course tutor will then get in touch with you to discuss your needs. If you’d like any more information on any of our courses, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07917062257.