Woman experiences social anxiety in a crowd.

What is Social Anxiety?

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article on social anxiety is Stephanie Rafn, LPCC and Outpatient Therapist. 

Has anyone ever told you that they have social anxiety? Or do you wonder if you might experience it?  

Social anxiety is a common mental health condition that makes certain social situations difficult for someone. Stephanie Rafn, LPCC and Outpatient Therapist, describes it as: 

“An irrational fear of everyday social interactions and situations that can cause people to have intense worry, self-consciousness, or embarrassment. People with social anxiety often have difficulty doing tasks while others are watching them and will attempt to avoid social situations.” 

It is also very common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 7.1% of adults (around 17 million people) experience social anxiety each year. 

While some people may confuse it with being introverted or shy, it’s not the same thing. It can show up in a lot of different ways and at different times. In this post, we’ll get into what social anxiety is, what it looks like, and how to overcome it. 

Related: 4 Anxiety-Related Negative Thought Patterns 

What Does Social Anxiety Look Like? 

Everyone is different, but some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • Feeling intense anxiety or fear in social situations, such as parties, meetings, or dates 
  • Worrying excessively about being judged, scrutinized, or rejected by others 
  • Avoiding social situations altogether or avoiding certain activities within social situations (e.g., eating in front of others, giving presentations) 
  • Having physical symptoms of anxiety in social situations, such as blushing, sweating, trembling, or nausea 
  • Having difficulty making or keeping friends 
  • Having difficulty dating or maintaining romantic relationships 

It’s normal to feel some nervousness around some scenarios like first dates or public speaking. But if this nervousness feels so intense that you avoid common situations, and they disrupt your everyday life, it may be time to get some help. 

Related: How Anxiety & Panic Attacks Can Feel in the Body 

How Can you Treat Social Anxiety? 

There are many ways to treat social anxiety, ranging from types of therapy, medications, and relaxation techniques you can do on your own. 

One of the most effective types of therapy for social anxiety is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A CBT therapist works with you to reframe distorted or negative thoughts into thoughts that are more realistic. For example, a distorted thought you have could be, “Everybody at this party thinks I’m an idiot.” Reframing that thought into a more realistic interpretation may sound like, “Many people at this party are probably not thinking all about me, and some of them are probably just as insecure as I am.”  

Psychiatric medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also be beneficial. SSRIs can increase serotonin, a chemical linked to mood and well-being. If you’re interested in finding a provider to prescribe medication for anxiety, learn more about our Psychiatry & Medication Management services. 

There are also several grounding skills you can do on your own to calm your mind and body when you feel anxiety coming on. Deep breathing techniques like belly breathing or box breathing can help to put your body at ease in seconds. Additionally, practicing mindfulness is another helpful grounding skill for relieving stress about social situations.   

Stephanie’s Patient 

Stephanie remembers working with a patient who had an intense fear of being in public because he was so worried about what other people would think about him. “He didn’t want to eat out in public, and he would become anxious if people even looked at him,” she said. 

Eventually, he started avoiding being in public or going to any social gatherings. “He was terrified that he would be judged for ‘being too loud’ or ‘making a scene.’” 

Stephanie worked with the patient on establishing a set of relaxation techniques to help him ease his physical anxiety when he was triggered. Then, they worked on challenging his anxious thoughts about what other people are thinking.  

The final step was the hardest – practicing those two skills while he was in a social environment. While this exposure therapy was difficult, being out in public became easier for him. Now, he’s able to be in public, and he even feels comfortable in many social situations. 

Related: Breathing Exercises for Anxiety & Stress 

How to Support a Loved One with Social Anxiety 

It’s hard to see a friend or a loved one experience social anxiety. You know that if they could relax and be themselves, many people would appreciate and accept them. So, how can you support someone experiencing social anxiety? 

Like most mental health issues, listening to and validating them is key. Saying things like, “That sounds difficult,” and “I’m sorry you’re experiencing that,” validates that person’s feelings and helps them feel understood. Offering alternative activities can also be helpful. If they’re nervous about going to the mall, you can suggest staying home and making dinner. 

One important thing to remember is that it’s not your job to challenge your loved one. Don’t force them to attend things or be in situations you know will make them uncomfortable. While facing fears is a crucial step to overcoming social anxiety, it’s a step that your loved one must take on their own. If you force them out of their comfort zone, you may just put a strain on your relationship with them, which will hurt you both. 

Related: 4 Ways to Support Children’s Mental Health this School Year 

A Word from Nystrom & Associates 

Please know that you don't have to face anxiety on your own. Reach out if you need help. Contact us at 1-844-NYSTROM or request an appointment online. We’ll help you find a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in social anxiety.  

Related: How to Stop Catastrophic Thinking 

Share this post

More From Our Blog