Social Anxiety: Common Symptoms and Coping Strategies

social anxietyWe’ve all experienced moments of shyness. They can arise unexpectedly but don’t typically present as a serious obstacle to social interaction. According to the Social Anxiety Institute (SAI), shyness is classified as a “personality characteristic.”

Social anxiety, on the other hand, is a disorder. The SAI characterizes this disorder as displaying “a significant amount of fear, embarrassment, or humiliation in social performance-based situations, to a point at which the affected person often avoids these situations entirely, or endures them with a high level of distress.”

If this sounds uncomfortably familiar, Barbara Markway, Ph.D., co-author of Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia, suggests trying a self-assessment test (not as a substitute for working with a mental health professional).

Ask yourself if any of the following activities cause you sustained social anxiety:

  • Answering and talking on the telephone
  • Being introduced to others, talking in a small group
  • Answering the door
  • Interactions at a store, doctor’s office, etc.
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Hosting or attending social events
  • Stating your opinions/Acting boldly
  • Talking about yourself to others

Again, seeking the help of a mental health professional is always an option worth considering, but what can we do within the realm of self-care?

Recognize symptoms. We begin with this for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, Social Anxiety Disorder is often mistaken for or even dismissed as “shyness.” Also, it’s very easy to label oneself a “loner” instead of exploring the possibility that we have an emotional issue that requires our full attention.

Educate yourself and those close to you. Once we’ve accepted that we’re dealing with more than “normal” shyness, it’s essential that we seek out reliable information not only for our own education but also for those around us. Even loved ones can inadvertently minimize our needs by thinking we just need a “push.” Once they understand more about Social Anxiety Disorder, they’ll be more likely to appreciate your situation.

Take stock in your circles. You may find that some members of your inner circles (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) seem unwilling to respect the new boundaries you’ve set. Reminder: You are under no obligation to put yourself into an anxiety-producing scenario. It’s not fun or easy, but this is a time to learn who you can trust with your recovery.

Cut yourself some slack. There’s nothing “wrong” with you. The advent of social media often gives the false impression that everyone else is having all the fun and enjoying all the success. What others present may or may not reflect their reality, but, either way, it’s crucial that we allow ourselves the time and space we require to thrive.

But sometimes flex your social muscles. It’s never fun to feel guilted or pressured into social plans but it can be exhilarating to challenge ourselves. Surprise yourself by saying “yes” to an invitation. See what it feels like to pick up the phone on the first ring. Take a chance with a little small talk at the supermarket.

Appreciate the need for recovery time. One commonality for those dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder is the need for solitary, rejuvenating me-time. Honoring this need may require all of the above to be called upon. The need for recovery time is a symptom we must recognize and must convey to others as a boundary. It’s a way we can gauge the reaction of those around us while simultaneously giving ourselves permission to prioritize self-care. And yes, after flexing those social muscles, there’s no better reward than balance!