If you experience anxiety in social settings, you are not alone!
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety affects approximately 15 million American adults, and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder following specific phobias.
What Is Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can be broken down into two types: specific and generalized. Specific social anxiety includes the fear of speaking in front of groups, whereas general social anxiety describes feeling nervous, anxious and uncomfortable in almost all social settings. Social anxiety can be characterized by a fear of being judged by others, embarrassing oneself, or being rejected, which often leads to avoidance of or withdrawal from certain situations or social events.
How Our Brains Work
Where do these anxious feelings come from? At times, our brains still react as if we are living in the Stone Age, and operate to protect us from prehistoric threats, such as being faced with a saber-toothed tiger. Today, we won‘t be faced with such predators, but this age-old reaction system has been reprogrammed to protect us from new kinds of threats, like judgment from our peers.
Luckily, our brains are highly plastic, meaning they can be changed with learning and experience. Working with a therapist can help you do this in order to better manage your social anxiety. One proven approach commonly used by therapists is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The basic concept of CBT is that our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts affect one another. For example, thinking, “If I fumble over my words during my presentation, everyone will laugh at me,” would cause someone to feel nervous and their heart to race, which would lead to avoidance behaviors such as not going through with the presentation or avoiding eye contact.
This structured approach to therapy teaches you new, rational ways of thinking about anxiety-provoking situations and accompanying behaviors that will allow you to confront these situations head-on. A therapist can help you navigate these cognitive-behavioral relationships and guide you in how to go about making modifications to decrease your anxiety.