Dealing with Social Anxiety

Feel intensely uncomfortable in social situations?

Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasion, like when giving a speech or interviewing for a new job. But social anxiety is more than just shyness or occasional nerves.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety, sometimes referred to as social phobia – is a recognised mental health condition that can affect your self-confidence, relationships, work and everyday activities. For example, you may have a fear of social or performance situations or worry about what other people think of you. If you have social anxiety, you might feel extremely uncomfortable in certain situations and worry a lot in the run-up to them. You may even go out of your way to avoid situations or events that you know you’ll find particularly stressful.

Social anxiety is one of the most common of the anxiety disorders, affecting around one in ten people.* So, if you’re worried about coping in a social situation, you’re certainly not the only one!

What triggers social anxiety?

If you have a fear of social or performance situations, understanding what triggers your symptoms can help you to cope with them. Common triggers may include:

  • meeting strangers or new people
  • having to speak in public or in meetings
  • being the centre of attention
  • attending social gatherings or parties
  • being observed or watched
  • being teased or criticised

Events like these can trigger high levels of anxiety, causing physical symptoms such as sweating, flushing, increased heart rate, trembling and nervousness.

Just because you occasionally get nervous in social situations doesn’t mean you have social anxiety or social phobia. Social anxiety interferes with your normal routine and causes tremendous distress.

For example, it’s perfectly normal to get the jitters before giving a speech. But if you have social anxiety, you might worry for weeks ahead of time, call in sick to get out of it, or start shaking so bad during the speech that you can hardly speak.

How to overcome Social Anxiety

Challenge negative thoughts

While it may seem like there’s nothing you can do about the symptoms of social anxiety or social phobia, in reality, there are many things that can help. The first step is challenging your mentality.

Social anxiety sufferers have negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their fears and anxiety. These can include thoughts such as:

  • “I know I’ll end up looking like a fool.”
  • “People will think I’m stupid”
  • “I won’t have anything to say. I’ll seem boring.”

Challenging these negative thoughts is an effective way to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety.

1: Identify the automatic negative thoughts that underlie your fear of social situations. For example, if you’re worried about an upcoming work presentation, the underlying negative thought might be: “I’m going to mess it up. Everyone will think I’m completely incompetent.”

2: Analyse and challenge these thoughts. It helps to ask yourself questions about the negative thoughts: “Do I know for sure that something will go wrong?” or “Even if I’m nervous, it doesn’t mean I am incompetent?” Through this logical evaluation of your negative thoughts, you can gradually replace them with more realistic and positive ways of looking at social situations that trigger your anxiety.

Seek Professional Help

It can be incredibly scary to think about why you feel and think the way you do but understanding the reasons for your anxieties will help lessen their negative impact on your life. Seeking the help of professional treatments can help you overcome social anxiety. Understand that what you think affects how you feel, and your feelings affect your behaviour. So, if you change the way you think about social situations that give you anxiety, you’ll feel and function better!

If your employer offers Vivup’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) it is available 24/7, 365 days a year. The 24-hour telephone helpline is responsive, confidential, and totally independent. For access to your EAP visit



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