If you suffer from social anxiety then the fear of what people think can sometimes be overwhelming. Simple activities like walking into a crowded room or sitting near a group of strangers can be enough to set off your alarm bells and cause you to panic. Because you’re convinced people are judging you and talking about you. In the worst case scenario you might hear someone laugh, which of course you think is aimed at you.
If this sounds familiar then you’re not alone. Literally millions of people around the world suffer from social anxiety and panic in uncomfortable situations. It’s estimated that 10% will suffer social anxiety at some stage in their life.
Why do I suffer anxiety and fear of strangers?
There are believed to be a few reasons why you might have developed social anxiety and the fear of people you don’t know. The main causes are believed to be rooted in your childhood: growing up with anxious or overly critical parents; or bullied or neglected as a child.
The low self esteem these experiences can cause can mean that you’re always looking to win the approval of others. This in turn makes you feel anxious because you’re constantly worrying about what people think and whether they’ll reject you.
Can social anxiety be overcome?
Social anxiety is believed to be the third most common psychiatric disorder, after depression and alcoholism, and in recent years extensive studies have been conducted into its causes and effects. With a diagnosis comes treatment, and thousands of people have learned to overcome their anxiety and panic through a combination of:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (which teaches you how to replace your uncomfortable thoughts with more helpful ways of thinking)
- relaxation techniques
- being more active
- medication (a magic bullet doesn’t exist for social anxiety. But a doctor can prescribe drugs that will take the edge off your sense of panic in social situations to help you change the way you think and behave and overcome your anxiety in the long term)
There’s an abundance of information to help you pacify your panic
When I’ve (finally) finished my Overcoming Social Anxiety eBook it will provide an overview of cognitive behavioural therapy and practical exercises you can use to gradually change the way you think and behave. And there’s already a wealth of information available in books and on the web to help you understand what social anxiety is and what strategies you can use to overcome its symptoms.
A particularly useful site (directed to by Ileana at the Beating Social Anxiety blog) is about.com’s Social Anxiety Disorder site. There’s plenty of informative articles on here to get you started in understanding your condition, and to help you realise that you’re not alone in experiencing panic in social situations.