It’s normal to get nervous before giving a speech or presentation, and many people find it a little stressful to walk into an event or class full of people you don’t know. However, when you have a social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, you’re terrified. You might even skip a class or social event because you’re so self-conscious and afraid of being judged by others. People with social anxiety disorder feel an overwhelming anxiety in social situations, whether that’s in class, work or at a party and this anxiety interferes with their day-to-day life. Fortunately, this disorder can be successfully treated, and you can start to enjoy social situations.
Signs & Symptoms
If you suffer from social anxiety disorder, you constantly fear being evaluated by others, and embarrassing yourself. You get excessively anxious when interacting with strangers, getting called on in class, eating in public or standing in line at the grocery store.
Both psychological and physical symptoms characterize this disorder, including:
• Intense anxiety before and during social situations
• Difficulty with daily, ordinary experiences like starting a conversation, calling someone or going to class
• Avoiding social situations
• Getting easily embarrassed
• A tough time talking
• Heart racing
• Feeling faint
As with other mental health conditions, social phobia involves a variety of contributing factors. Scientists believe that individuals with social anxiety disorder might be sensitive to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and emotions. Also, they may have an exaggerated fear response, because their amygdala — which regulates the fear response in your brain — is overactive.
People have a greater chance of developing the disorder if it runs in their families. The environment can also play a role. For example, individuals could have faced embarrassing or stressful social situations at a young age that create ongoing anxiety. Being bullied, experiencing a traumatic event or being shy can all make you more prone to social anxiety disorder.
People are often afraid to speak up and let others know about their anxiety. But it’s important to reach out for help because the condition is treatable and you can feel better. Learn more about dealing with social anxiety disorder.
Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder can make it really hard to function at school, work or in social situations. Fortunately, this condition can be treated with the help of a mental health professional.
One highly effective treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). You and your therapist work together to identify and change thoughts and behaviors that feed your anxiety. For instance, you’ll work on counteracting thoughts like “Everyone is judging me” and “I’m going to do a terrible job with this speech.” There are also medications that, when used in conjunction with therapy, can help reduce anxiety.
In addition to following your treatment plan, there are other ways you can reduce your anxiety.
• Avoid caffeine. Caffeine fuels anxiety, and heightens symptoms such as agitation, irritability, nervousness, jitteriness, headaches and dizziness. So it’s better to either cut down on your intake or, better yet, avoid caffeine altogether.
• Manage stress. Stress can also exacerbate anxiety. One big source of stress is schoolwork. If you have a speech or presentation coming up, manage your stress by starting early and breaking up the project into smaller parts. Practice the presentation several times until you feel comfortable with it. Try to practice in front of a close friend, too.
• Learn relaxation techniques. Sometimes no matter what you do, you’re unable to prevent the physical symptoms of anxiety. Learning ways to relax can be tremendously helpful in stopping anxiety from escalating.
• Practice anxiety-provoking situations. The more you practice something, the more comfortable and better skilled you become. Avoiding situations that bring you anxiety makes you feel better at first, but over time, this increases your anxiety, and you think that you can’t handle these situations. Start practicing activities that make you somewhat uncomfortable and work your way up. Some ideas: Talk to a classmate about an assignment, answer a question in class, attend a tutoring session, eat in the cafeteria, have lunch with a friend or compliment a stranger.