Many people tend toward shyness or introversion. And everyone feels “socially anxious” sometimes. It shows up when we’re nervous or fearful in social situations – especially in group settings, when we’re called on to give a presentation or perform in some way, when we’re meeting new people, or when we’re interacting with authority figures. This kind of nervousness is a normal part of life. Problematic social anxiety is a very different phenomenon.
People who suffer this kind of anxiety often find it hard to put a finger on exactly what’s wrong. Many people who have social anxiety have depressing, looping thoughts (“I am broken;” “I’m a failure;” “I have nothing to offer;” “I can’t change”) that can make depression seem the main or underlying issue. Many also are dealing with behaviors that look like agoraphobia, “simple” substance abuse, or even laziness.
Extremely critical thoughts about yourself feed into anxious feelings… And who can tell whether the dry mouth/shakiness/tight chest feeling follows or precedes the sense that everything is terrible and you are a loser… And now you’re feeding behaviors (avoiding people; distracting yourself) that keep you more and more alone… And here you are again thinking depressing, critical thoughts… And around and around it goes, with no obvious way out, and, too often, no clear sense of what the main problem is or how to go about fixing it.
Humans are social creatures, and social anxiety removes your ability to enjoy being social.
Social anxiety encourages you to feel ashamed of both your anxiety and the way you’re living your life. The fear of judgment that characterizes social anxiety can make it difficult to advance in your career or do well in school, and can make potentially enjoyable things like joining a kickball league, volunteering for a cause you care about, or dating seem impossible. Often people dealing with social anxiety find themselves staying at home more and more, or turning to alcohol or other drugs in order to “function” in social settings. Depressing thoughts can keep you trapped in a downward spiral of self-hate and isolation. You think that taking steps to disentangle yourself from these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will only increase the pain – and open you up to embarrassment and rejection.
Fortunately, there is hope. If you have the strength to get through each day under the weight of social anxiety, it is evident that you also have the strength to make changes.
Leave me a voicemail or email today to take the first step toward positive change.
Some of the work we do together in therapy will focus on finding practical ways of managing the anxiety. Much of our work will revolve around our creating a safe environment in which you can process your experience and find the resources inside yourself to identify what you want and to move toward what you need. It’s important to be patient with yourself around this very real pain, and it’s important that you try to make changes sooner rather than later.
You can do this.