What is Social Anxiety / Social Phobia?
Do you know that feeling of being in the spotlight the moment you have to leave the house? All around you are eyes, that just wait for you to trip over and fall, to embarrass yourself publicly in order to have a laugh and a story to tell? Everybody is watching you, thinking how weird, ugly, pointless you are.
Friends and colleagues tolerate you, but secretly they probably think the worst of you.
You are convinced you are incompetent, stupid, inarticulate and you put every effort in just trying to hide it in front of others. Your life is constant distress.
You are expected to go to yet another event, another reception, the party of the year, while you just want to hide, be invisible, unnoticed and disappear.
You believe everybody around you is witness to your Anxiety. You cannot stop your face from blushing, your body from sweating, your hands from shaking, your voice from trembling, if you even speak at all. You feel sick, your stomach turns just by thinking about people around you who could notice how ridiculous you are...Maybe you have perceived yourself as an outsider already as long as you can remember.
Scared of social interactions, of being seen, of anything that rings embarrassment, shame and Anxiety to you, you prefer to be alone, yet suffering deeply from your inner loneliness. You would love to be invited and share, feeling "normal" like everybody else, just enjoying the outside world and the company of people, as your own world continues to narrow down.
You are not alone.
Being afraid of social situations and other people might sound strange for some. As for humans are social beings it just seems natural to interact with each other, making friends, building relationships. People help us grow. People make us learn from one another. We can feel connected, needed and accepted, giving and receiving love.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from Social Anxiety/Social Phobia, a fear of situations that could potentially bring judgement, criticism, humiliation and embarrassment. It is one of the most common forms of Anxiety and comes in different shapes, colors and sizes. Often it includes excessive perfectionism, procrastination and can even lead to depression. This fear is more than shyness, a little discomfort and feeling introvert. It becomes a problem, when you suffer from it, not being able to be part of social activities, dreading everything that involves interaction with others, feeling distress by just thinking of it.
Social Anxiety is the fear of being perceived and evaluated negatively. A constant fear of making a fool of oneself, that can lead to complete isolation, withdrawal from the environment, from loved ones, from living.
The level of Anxiety can range from “simple” nervousness to full blown paralyzing fear, and even debilitating panic attacks.
People who suffer from Social Anxiety often live beneath their real potential, too frightenend to take challenges, too scared to fail in something, dreading criticism and judgement of others.
At some point you may reach a peak in feeling even fearful and anxious that the strong and paralyzing fear might return again. And then you find yourself trapped in that endless cycle of anxiety and avoidance -
to the point that you might block your professional development and career
to the point you don't want to go to networking or social events anymore
to the point where you block your personal development and enrichment through any social interaction
to the point where you fear to leave the house at all.
The first step to get out of this vicious circle of Anxiety is to realize and accept it is there. Ignoring the symptoms and pretending it is not there, forces the fear to shout even louder. Like a little child, that wants to be heard and therefore starts to scream and cry, Anxiety asks to be listened to. This emotion is a sign for something deep inside of you, that requires your attention.
Anxiety is nothing we were born with, we have learned it along the way for different reasons. Therefore the good news is:
What we have learned at one point or another, we can un-learn or re-learn. Begin to work with that part of you, that wants to be listened to.
Acknowledgement and Acceptance of the fear being there at the present time is a good starting point.
Listen to what your Anxiety wants to tell you. Hear its voice, begin to understand, why you feel that way. Become aware of what exactly triggers your fear response.
Realize that you are not that scared child anymore. What has happened in the past is in the past. You dealt with the situation at that point in time to your best knowledge and experience.
You are an adult now and you are safe. You have learned so much in your life, being so much wiser and stronger now.
Deal with yourself in a more positive and constructive way. Investigate your inner dialogue. How do you talk to yourself? What words are you using? Could you use other words to describe your thoughts and feelings? What are your negative beliefs?
Make a list of your "What if..."- questions. For example: "What if I embarrass myself? What if everybody sees me shaking? What if I blush?" All those nagging questions that point into an unknown future, an uncertainty, a possible, but not proven outcome. Can you be 100% sure, those things will happen? What is the worst, that can happen then? Will you survive it? How can you deal with those things, if they happen? What if those things don't happen at all? What else can happen?
There is no shame in seeking out professional help. Someone who can listen to you and sees the things from the outside perspective can help you on your way of understanding and transforming destructive Anxiety from being a block in your life to a more healthy and useful emotion.
Anxiety is not the final destination, not a definite destiny. No one needs to live in dread and fear. There are a lot of possibilities out there to deeply understand and learn how to overcome this fear and feel comfortable in your own skin.
Be patient, compassionate and kind to yourself, knowing your smart and powerful brain just wants Your Best at all times.
At the time I am writing this blog entry I am working on a comprehensive Program to support people in overcoming their Social Anxiety. It will be packed with important and useful information, tools and techniques to my best knowledge and experience. I will take you step by step through feelings of overwhelm and insecurity. From the comfort of your home you will be able to do what it takes for you to feel comfortable in your skin in every situation.
Watch this space.
UPDATE: My comprehensive Self Help Program "Hiding-No More!" is available HERE.