This time of year is popular for social engagements such as office parties, fun get-togethers with friends and festive family gatherings. But for many sufferers of social anxiety, this can be the most traumatic time of the year. While many people look forward to a good knees-up, those with social anxieties may experience feelings of dread as the party season approaches.
According to NICE, it is estimated that social anxiety disorder affects up to 10% of the UK's population. The disorder recently made headlines when popstar Will Young spoke out about turning to alcohol to help him cope with social anxiety at events.
But what is social anxiety and is there help to manage it?
Social anxiety is a particular type of anxiety that involves extreme shyness and feelings of anxiety specifically relating to social interactions. People with this type of anxiety typically feel self-conscious around others and may feel inferior or judged. Social anxiety is extremely common and may accompany other issues such as depression. It is not fully understood why some people get socially anxious. It can run in families but it is not known whether this is due to biological or social factors. Bullying or teasing at school can also have a bearing on how we interact as adults, as can how we were treated by family and friends as children.
There are two types of social anxiety. Specific Social Phobia: While some people may struggle in a party environment, some sufferers of social anxiety are able to mix with people and socialise normally in most instances. However they may struggle with a particular aspect of social interaction, such as public speaking, or eating in front of others and fear that something is going to go wrong. General Social Phobia: Other people may become anxious whenever they are around others. They may feel judged or watched and this can be incredibly disabling for them. Often, people with this type of social phobia feel the only way to cope with their feelings are to avoid social situations.
There are many physical symptoms of social anxiety and everyone is different, but some of the most common symptoms include: sweating, blushing, trembling, dry mouth, finding it hard to breathe, and palpitations. Those with social anxieties often over analyse social situations that are coming up worrying about what could go wrong. Or they may dwell on past situations and think what they could have done better, or what others thought of them. People with such anxieties are usually aware of them and may use a number of coping mechanisms to alleviate the symptoms such as: alcohol, drugs or avoidance of the social situation altogether.
The good news, if you're reading this as a sufferer of social anxiety, is that social anxieties can be effectively treated. There are a number of approaches you can take to dealing with social anxiety from developing your social skills to make you feel more in control to self-help books and prescription drugs. One popular, evidence-based, drug-free approach commonly used in the NHS for anxiety is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT has been shown to be very successful for treating people with anxiety related issues. CBT involves looking at the relationship between how you think and how you feel. By learning CBT techniques, people can learn to recognise unhelpful thought patterns and work to change these to improve their mood.
Whilst social anxiety may feel isolating, you are not alone and help is available.