Changing Behaviours: Social Anxiety
by Sitra Panirsheeluam
Social anxiety is a common fear that affects 1 in 5 people. Those who suffer from social anxiety may fear being judged , laughed at or criticised by their peers. This anxiety affects them so much to a point that it negatively affects their performance - whether this is making conversation or giving a presentation. This can affect your mental health by lowering your confidence, and sabotaging your current relationships and ability to make new connection.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Though it is difficult to pinpoint one cause of social anxiety, we can view it as a combination of factors such as genetics (having a family member suffer from social anxiety) and environmental factors (such as experiencing neglect or trauma).
Anxiety is the brain's way of trying to keep us safe. Social anxiety is the brain's way of trying to keep us safe around other people. Perhaps there was an incident where we were ridiculed and we are trying to avoid a similar situation. Perhaps it was a series of incidences where you learnt that other people were not safe - e.g., you had a parent who was emotionally unreliable. Whatever the underlying issue, social anxiety is our body's way of protecting us against social situations that it believes to be a threat.
What Social Anxiety Feels Like
If you suffer from social anxiety, your body is experiencing a high amount of stress. Your heart may start racings, your palms may get sweaty and your mind may go blank. This can exacerbate your social anxiety if you're worried that someone is going to notice your sweaty palms or that you may not be able to make conversation.
This is because your body releases cortisol when you're stressed. This makes it harder for your brain to access its short term memory, making it difficult for you to focus your attention or engage with critical thinking. These symptoms of social anxiety may make you believe that you are disinterested in other people or you are not a good conversationalist, causing to isolate yourself even further. This reinforces the belief that social situations are not safe.
Please know that this is not the case. Even if you identify as being an introvert, humans are innately social beings. For our mental well-being, we do need to connect with others in a way that feels safe for us. (Which is why therapy is good place to start if you suffer from social anxiety. Your therapist can model health social interaction for you.)
How to Manage Social Anxiety
From a behavioural therapy perspective, we can implement strategies that will help to teach us that social situations are safe.
Get to Know Your Social Anxiety
Start by writing down your triggers. What situations do feel social anxiety? What does social anxiety feel like for you?
Write out your plan: when I am triggered, I will practice (insert strategy here)
Whenever you feel triggered, engage with mindful breathing. This will help your body to register that it is safe. You can use this strategy as part of your plan.
f you notice yourself holding tension in your body at the thought of a social situation, engage in a relaxation technique that works for you. This could be getting a massage, smelling essential oils, find a quiet place to read etc. This helps you to self-soothe.
For each small step of bravery, reward yourself. This helps to reinforce the belief that "social situations are safe".
The Mind Faculty is a private mental health clinic in Solaris Mont Kiara, offering psychiatrist, psychological and counselling services. We also offer behavioural therapy which helps individuals to create lasting and positive change in behaviours. This includes the way we work, the way we behave in social situations and other aspects of our lives.