Are you scared of going out in the public? Do you feel self-conscious in public places and imagine that everyone around you is scrutinising your every single move? Are you terrified of speaking up in front of a crowd? If you are nodding in the affirmative the condition that you are most likely suffering from is known as social anxiety disorder.

Surveys have shed light on interesting cases of social anxiety prevailing in Australia. Approximately around 3% of the Australians have encountered the condition social phobia in any one year. And almost 13% of the Australian population will develop the condition of social anxiety at sometime during their lives. The share of cases of social phobias are equal between men and women, though a higher percentage of the male population resort to professional help.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder can easily be defined as a social phobia, in which the sufferer fears going out in public places. The phobia usually results from thoughts of being embarrassed, ridiculed, judged or criticised in social gatherings. Social anxiety can easily be differentiated from feelings of shyness, for if you are a sufferer you want to avoid any form of social interactions at all. It is a form of ‘extreme’ shyness, in which the person is scared of socialising and becomes overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety in social settings. Social phobia aggravates feelings that go beyond normal nervousness and anxiety.

  1. Social anxiety sufferers can answer the following questions to validate and form a check-list of their mental condition:
  2. Do you experience excessive and continuous panicking spells when placed in social or performance situations?
  3. Do you feel extremely self-conscious meeting unfamiliar people?
  4. Are you troubled with negative thoughts of doing something humiliating and embarrassing in public?
  5. Do you avoid social gatherings to avoid feelings of intense anxiety?
  6. Do you take considerable pain in trying to evade public places and gatherings?
  7. Do you encounter a lack of control over your feelings of anxiety and fear especially during social gatherings?
  8. Is the social phobia interfering with you daily activities including work, family, friends and social life?

What are the symptoms of social anxiety?

  • Blushing or feeling shy
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling tongue-tied
  • Palpitations
  • Hyper-ventilation
  • Tense muscles
  • Sweating of the palms
  • Dry throat
  • Experiencing difficulty in concentration due to excessive anxiety
  • Sinking feeling in stomach
  • Feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty
  • Nausea
  • Negative and highly critical thoughts like “I look stupid in front of everyone”
  • Feeling dizzy and light-headed

What situations to people with social phobia avoid?

If you suffer from social phobia, you are excessively afraid of speaking in front of a crowd or being involved in public performances. There are various other social interactions that you may fear and they may hamper your normal life routine. A person suffering from social anxiety may avoid the following social situations:

  • Talking to a group
  • Public speaking
  • Crowds and get-togethers
  • Meeting a stranger
  • Dating
  • Using public toilets
  • When being noticed by someone in public while walking, eating or any other action
  • Situations that puts sufferer in the limelight, such as one’s own birthday party
  • Shopping
  • Using the telephone

Complications related to social anxiety disorder

To avoid the unfavourable symptoms of social anxiety, some people may resort to harmful measures. The sufferer may seek detrimental short-term solutions as a desperate attempt to alleviate themselves from unpleasant feelings. If ignored this disorder can have severe impact on one’s normal life routine. Some complications are:

  • Dependency on alcohol to reduce anxiety during parties.
  • Drug abuse by misusing non-prescribed or prescribed drugs.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Disturbing suicidal thoughts.
  • Stress and depression.
  • Isolating oneself from loved ones.
  • Difficulty in forming and handling relationships.

Treatment for social anxiety

Social anxiety in Australia can begin with feelings of shyness in childhood and shapes into more severe symptoms during adolescence. It is wise to start early treatment to avoid an escalation of symptoms.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

This treatment helps in changing your thought patterns by helping you perceive situations, people and behaviours in a positive light. It aims at making the social anxiety sufferer comfortable in social gatherings by making him believe that no one is scrutinising them or planning to humiliate them. CBT helps the sufferer to feel comfortable in his own skin and exert control over his thoughts and feelings. The therapist will first enlighten the patient with his condition. From there the challenge of changing negative perceptions of social interactions is undertaken. The person is left to experience his social fear gradually till he overcomes it completely.

Systematic desensitisation

This is a very effective method for treating anxiety and fear. In this technique situations, which arouse feelings of anxiety, are recalled in your imagination, as part of an exercise. Then relaxation techniques are associated with the anxiety to dissipate the feelings. With repetition of this method, the social interaction situation eventually loses the intensity of the anxiety-provoking reaction.

Social skills training

Through the tools of role-playing and rehearsing you start to feel more comfortable during social interactions. You are taught the art of socialising and talking to people in public and with routine practice you can overcome your social phobia.

Anxiety management skills

Anxiety dissipating techniques are taught so you can calm yourself down during feelings of nervousness. Hyperventilation is one of the symptoms of anxiety and breathing techniques to draw more deep, slow breaths from the abdomen helps in reducing anxiety. Other exercises include meditation, isometric relaxation exercises and visualisation.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy is also highly effective for treating social anxiety as the therapist works with the relationship between himself and the client. Because this anxiety is primarily interpersonal, it can be powerful to work with a therapist who uses a relational approach. The relationship between the client and therapist can be used as a social laboratory to understand more about how you respond in social engagements and interactions outside the therapy room.

Social anxiety disorder offsets at a tender age of 11 to 15, and with the passage of time the symptoms only get worse. Do not ignore this condition and seek immediate professional help so you can enjoy living life without fear.

If you want help with dealing with anxiety, Australia Counselling links you with professional counsellors and psychologists in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and regional areas of Australia. Just visit our anxiety and/or panic attacks page to see counsellors and psychologists listed in your local area.