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Social Anxiety - the fear of interactional and social situations

Eyes on the ground, wanting nothing more than to run back into the comfort of your own four walls. All you can think about is not drawing unwanted attention, yet it feels like eyes are following you around everywhere, watching your every move. It takes all your willpower not to run away while the discomfort and fear that cloud your mind slowly spread through your body.

The discomfort you feel during social interaction could be a sign of social anxiety, also known as social disorder or social phobia. Although your comfort level in social situations may depend on your personality and life experience, it is not uncommon to feel anxious in new or unfamiliar social situations. If the fear becomes persistent, causes you severe discomfort or distress, and limits your life, you may have social anxiety (NIMH, 2022).

What does social anxiety feel like?

Social anxiety can be experienced on several levels. One level is the psychological one, which can include constant worrying about social situations, severe fear of judgment, shame or rejection, or self-conscious feelings. Another level is the physical one with reactions such as sweating, shaking, or a rapid heartbeat (ADAA, 2023). Furthermore, social anxiety can lead to isolation and loneliness, which can affect your daily activities and interfere with your relationships with other people.

The two types of social anxiety

Social anxiety can be divided into two different types. The most common type is the generalized type, which means the affected person feels anxious throughout a variety of social situations; the other type is the specific anxiety, better known as performance anxiety. This describes people who feel anxious in particular situations, such as speaking in front of people or having to eat in front of people (NIMH, 2022).

What causes social anxiety?

Social anxiety often stems from a fear of judgment or rejection. There is ongoing research into the origins of social anxiety disorder. It is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Causes may include a family history of anxiety disorders, an overactive amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for the fear response), or a highly judgmental and overly controlling environment. Negative experiences in social situations, such as bullying or humiliation, may also affect the development of social anxiety (NIMH, 2022).

What can you do?

Social anxiety can be difficult to deal with, but there are several strategies that may help manage it. .

You don't have to hide your social anxiety. Don't hesitate to seek support from trusted friends, family, or professionals. Sharing your concerns with someone who understands and empathizes with your experience can provide comfort in times of struggle. It is often helpful to seek the support of a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety disorders. They can provide effective strategies and support tailored to your specific needs and, in some cases, prescribe medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to reduce anxiety by eliminating beliefs or behaviors associated with your social anxiety.

There are also small things you can do on your own if you are struggling with social anxiety. Try practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. These can help you calm your body and mind during moments of anxiety.  

Also, you may try challenging your negative thoughts. Pay attention to what occupies your mind during moments of anxiety. Often, we tend to assume the worst, imagining that others are judging or ridiculing us. Try to challenge "irrational" thoughts or beliefs by asking yourself if these thoughts are really true and if there is another way to look at them. If possible, replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts. Remind yourself that everyone has insecurities and that people generally focus more on themselves than on others.

As hard as it sounds, don't try to avoid the social situations that make you anxious. By avoiding facing your anxiety, you continuously confirm your belief that it's not safe or that you can't handle it. Avoidance is a common short-term strategy to reduce your feelings of anxiety, but in the long run your anxiety will be enhanced. Your brain needs some convincing before it begins to believe that certain things are not scary or threatening. In essence, to change your belief that you cannot do the "scary" things, you need to face them gradually and do them repeatedly before it  becomes comfortable.

While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, it's important to remember that it does not define you as an individual. By implementing these strategies and maintaining a proactive attitude, you can regain control of your social anxiety. Remember that progress may take time, so be patient and kind to yourself along the way.


ADAA. Social Anxiety Disorder | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. 2023,

NIH. NIMH » Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. 2022,

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