Social Anxiety is more than shyness.
It is a fear that does not go away and affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life.
Many People occasionally worry about social situations, but someone with social anxiety feels overly worried before, during and after the event.
Through Covid-19 we have been experiencing many changes and worrying about social situations is probably high on everyone’s agenda, our participation in social events has been very much reduced and most will have been via online platforms.
We may be worrying about
How our children will integrate back into school
Going to the supermarket or shopping
What to do when pubs and restaurants open and safe it will be
The defining feature of social anxiety is not just about being in a social situation, but it is an intense fear of being judged by others, criticised, or rejected.
People with social anxiety think that if they do things jut right they can avoid disappointing others and escape the dreaded possibility of being judged, but of course immunity to others judgements is an unrealistic expectation, and now with the constant change of guidance during Covid-19 with these guidelines being interpreted in different ways by many it will seem even more impossible to do things in the right way and avoid that judgment and criticism that is so feared.
Currently there seems to be quite a lot of judgment about other behaviours
The look you might get if you are not social distancing
The criticism of people’s actions such as flocking to the beach on the hot days
We can be unsure about the right or wrong way you act because we are confused by the guidance
If you struggle with social anxiety and worry about others judgements this could be a very stressful time for you, even if you have never struggled with social anxiety Covid-19 could be a trigger for you to start to have some of these fears of social situations and being judged by others
Before Covid-19 people with social anxiety would have often avoided situations, but when a situation cannot be avoided, someone with social anxiety will experience significant distress and anxiety
Social anxiety can also incur strong physical s symptoms such as rapid heart rate, nausea and sweating, and some may experience panic attacks, if you have been isolated at home for a long period then these physical symptoms could feel much worse due to not experiencing them so strongly for a while.
Social anxiety generally starts as a teenager, individuals with social anxiety commonly report extreme shyness in childhood, but it is important to note that social anxiety is not simply shyness, and these symptoms continue through life.
Someone with social anxiety will have symptoms so extreme they will disrupt their daily life and interfere significantly with daily routines, performance at work, social life, school, job interviews, friendships, and romantic relationships
People with social anxiety disorder are also likely to be at an increased risk of developing major depressive disorders and alcohol use disorders, the dependency and consequences of social anxiety go far beyond just a fear of social situations.
Despite the availability of effective treatments, fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety seek help and more than a third of people report they have had symptoms for 10 years, or more, before seeking help.
Through covid -19 social exposure has been reduced and so social anxiety can flare up making the return to social gatherings particularly daunting, and if you have never experienced social anxiety this current climate could be a trigger. Due to the environment of blame and judgment a new fear of being judged by others when outside their own home could lead to social anxiety
People who live with social anxiety often avoid interactions with others to avoid feeling afraid, short term relief may have been felt within the current climate of self-isolation however avoiding social interaction can also maintain social anxiety.
One of the most common treatments for social anxiety is CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which involves gradual exposure to social situations.
A therapist would work with their client to identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs about socialising and would often involve some behaviour experiments in which the client tests how they cope in situations. This exposure allows them to challenge these thoughts and beliefs in real life situations in a measured and safe way.
However, coming out of self-isolation may not offer the opportunity for gradual exposure and so the fear of social anxiety will be much greater.
Alongside challenging our negative thoughts (you can find out more about this in my blog https://www.seeclearcounselling.co.uk/post/what-are-unhelpful-thinking-styles-and-why-do-you-need-to-know-about-them) how else can we challenge our current social anxiety in this strange new world.
1. Set realistic intentions when you venture out in public. It will be impossible to follow rules that please everyone, so instead, follow the rules that make the most sense to you, based on your own information gathering and knowledge gained from reputable sources. People will interpret government issued guidelines in different ways, so it is difficult to read them as black or white, right or wrong.
Move to a place where you can expect and accept that others may not approve of what you do but know that you are doing what feels right for you.
Do not get overly concerned with what others do, that is their responsibility, your responsibility is to you and what feels right for you.
Try to adopt what we call an expansive mindset- If I displease someone, I can forgive myself, whether they forgive me or not.
2. Curb the urge to seek reassurance from others that you are doing the right thing. Getting reassurance reinforces the belief that by doing everything right we avoid criticism. True confidence will come from allowing yourself to make mistakes and accepting that you cannot possibly please all the people all of the time.
3. Allow any feeling of embarrassment or shame that arise, they will dissipate on their own.
Negative emotions are not a sign that you have done something wrong, it is just your own morals and values have been challenged, but that is ok.
When we are open to uncomfortable emotions, rather than try to distract ourselves away from them, they will generally move away more quickly.
Facing these difficult emotions regularly will enable you to have the confidence in your own actions and give you the self confidence that you are not being judged by others, it is just their opinion, an opinion that differs from your own.
Laura Knight Dip Couns MBACP is am experienced and qualified counsellor and CBT therapist who runs her own private practice SeeClear Counselling in Poole Dorset.
She is an anxiety UK approved Therapist and specialises in working with anxiety and panic attacks, helping adults with anxiety move from a place of fear and worry to a place of clam leading to a happier, more fulfilled life.
Laura can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling
You can contact Laura by text or phone 07975733029