Social Anxiety is a mental illness that is characterized by extreme fear of scrutiny of others. People with social anxiety often fear that others are–or will–judge them negatively in social situations.
Social anxiety is not a fixed mental illness–meaning that someone who is socially anxious may not feel socially anxious in all situations. Most likely the person will be triggered by certain social situations. For instance, someone who was put on blast in school by cruel classmates might develop anxiety about being the center of attention. Or someone who had “wishy-washy,” “two-faced” friends growing up may always be anxious that their friends may not genuinely like them. Maybe the anxiety could come from professional situations, such as getting an overly critical evaluation from your boss.
Countless scenarios can lead to social anxiety. For some, social anxiety is more so genetic than environmental, meaning they may have been born with certain genes that made them more likely to have social anxiety.
Regardless of how it is developed, the solution is, for the most part, the same for everyone. Here are some general tips to overcome social anxiety:
- Recognize what it is your anxious about– I’m not necessarily talking about the situation at hand; I’m talking about the thoughts that are bothering you on a deeper level. Is the anxiety because you think people don’t like you? Or maybe it’s your insecure about your looks? It could be that you think you lack intelligence, which makes you unconfident to speak in social situations. At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself deep questions to get deep answers about what it is that’s causing you to be anxious.
- Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen– In social situations, we often get anxious about things that are not really that much of a threat. People with social anxiety may get anxious about walking into a room full of people, eating in a cafeteria, or speaking up in an office meeting. If these situations sound familiar, next time ask yourself, if what I’m anxious about were to actually happen what would be the worst-case scenario. Most likely, your life wouldn’t change much.
- People are too wrapped up in their own lives to pay attention to what’s going on in yours– Olin Miller said: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” When socially anxious, it may seem like all eyes are on you, and everyone is watching and judging your every move. The truth is that people don’t care about what we are doing nearly as much as we think they do.
- Roll with the facts– Social anxiety tends to make people think that their negative assumptions are facts. They treat their anxious thoughts as if their an undeniable truth rather than an idea. Until you can–without a doubt–say that your anxious thoughts are a fact, you should let them be exactly what they are—thoughts. Let me be clear: you don’t know what others are thinking, so don’t assume they’re thinking the worst.
- Don’t take things too personally– When your feeling anxious in social situations, it is easy to blame yourself; you may even begin to start thinking less of yourself. But other people’s negative thoughts–if there even thinking about you at all–are more about them and their own insecurities than they are about you and your shortcomings. People who are judgmental tend to be that way to deflect from their own problems. Therefore, you should never take their negativity personal.
- Learn to be okay with whatever– Be fine with whatever people may think about you. If they believe you’re corny, be okay with them feeling that way. If they think you’re not smart, be okay with that. If they think you’re ugly, be okay with that. Whatever they THINK about you, let them think it. You have no control over what others think, so it serves you no purpose to place so much importance on other people’s thoughts. Life is much easier when you allow others to THINK whatever it is they want –even when it’s about you. After all, what they think, is none of your business.
At the end of the day, social anxiety is a mental illness, which most people mistake for shyness or insecurity. Social anxiety can be corrected with help from a trained mental health professional.
If you believe you have social anxiety, get help from a therapist so that it won’t be a problem in your life any longer. Mental illnesses are more common than people realize, but they don’t just go away over time. You have to be highly intentional about improving your mental health, and the journey to improvement starts with getting help.