Social anxiety: How it arises and 6 ways to deal with it

April 24, 2023

Many people suffer from social anxiety. 7-12% of us suffer from it at least once in our lives. But where do social anxieties come from and what can be done about them?

Likeminded Editorial Team

Table of Content

Social anxiety is common. Many people have experienced feeling anxious when they are in a social situation and feel a strong desire to leave or avoid it in advance.

One of the main aspects of social anxiety is the fear of being judged negatively or viewed critically by others. This anxiety can lead to physical or psychological symptoms such as sweating, trembling, palpitations, and difficulty speaking. The anxiety can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities and relationships, making it difficult for sufferers to enjoy life to the fullest.

If you struggle with anxiety about social situations, know that you are not alone and that there are many ways to manage these fears.

Causes of social anxiety

The causes of social anxiety are varied and can include biological factors as well as psychological and social factors. 

Biological factors

Biological causes include genetic predispositions, hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders, and a deficiency of certain vitamins. If you suffer from social anxiety, it, therefore, makes sense to first clarify whether the anxiety has a medical basis.

Psychological factors

Psychological causes include negative childhood experiences, low self-esteem, lack of social skills, and anxiety that may be triggered by previous traumatic events.

Social factors

Social factors that may contribute to social anxiety include social isolation, lack of social support, conflict in relationships, and a negative work environment.

The impact of social anxiety in the workplace

While some people with social anxiety can manage their symptoms and perform well in the workplace, others struggle with daily tasks. The effects of social anxiety in the workplace can be far-reaching, leading to difficulty communicating with colleagues, avoidance of social situations, and decreased productivity.

People with social anxiety may also experience physical symptoms such as sweating, tremors, and speech difficulties, which can further affect their performance on the job. Employers can play a critical role in supporting employees with social anxiety by creating a positive, collaborative work environment that provides resources that improve employee well-being and performance.

This can include offering flexible work arrangements, such as the ability to work from home, and providing opportunities for employees to participate in social activities in a relaxed and supportive environment. In addition, employers can provide access to mental health resources and encourage employees to seek help if they are struggling with social anxiety.

Soziale anxiety: What happens in the brain?

The answer lies in the complex interplay between the amygdala, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex:

The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions and the “fight-or-flight” response, while the hippocampus is involved in memory formation and information retrieval. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is responsible for emotion regulation and behavioral control.

By perceiving social situations as massively threatening, the amygdala is activated and prepared the body for “fight or flight”. This mechanism is designed to ensure our survival.

Unfortunately, our amygdala cannot distinguish whether it is an actual survival-threatening danger, such as an earthquake, or a perceived danger, such as the upcoming presentation; it always reacts with the same survival mechanism: 

Stress hormones such as cortisol are released, which can lead to physical symptoms such as sweating and palpitations. At the same time, the hippocampus remembers past negative experiences and reinforces the fear response. The prefrontal cortex is unable to regulate these emotions, leading to an increase in anxiety and avoidance behaviors. 

In summary, social anxiety is a complex state that is the result of delicate interplay between different brain regions. If we understand what is going on in our brain when we experience anxiety, we can take appropriate countermeasures.

Tools and techniques that can help you deal with social anxiety

1. Recognize and challenge your thoughts:

People with social anxiety often have negative and unrealistic thoughts about themselves and social situations, Try to recognize these thoughts and question them: Is the thought realistic? What is the argument for it? What speaks against it?

In the next step, you can try to identify alternative, more helpful, and realistic thoughts about yourself or the situation.

For example, if you think: “The others notice my insecurity and make fun of me”, you can try to establish the following thought: “The others may notice my insecurity, they have experienced this themselves and understand me.”

2. Step-by-step confrontation:

One of the most effective ways to overcome social anxiety is to gradually expose yourself to the situations that trigger it. Start with small, less stressful social situations and gradually work your way up to more challenging situations. This way, you can build self-confidence and learn that you can handle social situations without being overwhelmed by anxiety.‍

3. Breathing:

Our breathing plays a big role in anxiety in general. When we feel anxiety, our breathing changes. We breathe shallowly and quickly, thus there is an excess of oxygen in our body and our nervous system is activated. To counteract this mechanism, it helps to exhale twice as long as we inhale. This regulated our nervous system and we become calmer.‍

4. Change your focus:

When we are anxious, we often focus on our anxiety symptoms. We become more aware of how we sweat, our heart beats faster, our voice becomes shaky, and our head feels foggy. The more we focus on the symptoms, the greater the anxiety becomes. 

To break this cycle, try shifting your focus to something on the outside, away from your body's symptoms. For example, direct your attention to the ground you feel under your feet, the taste of the tea you drank, or the flowers on the table.

5. Seek support:

Talking to friends and family about your fears can be very helpful. You can also turn to a therapist or psychologist for support. They can help you develop coping strategies and provide a safe space to talk about your feelings.

6. Make lifestyle changes:

A healthy diet, regular exercise, and good sleep habits can help reduce stress and improve mood, which in turn can help reduce social anxiety.

By using the above strategies and seeking support, you can learn to better manage or overcome social anxiety in the long run. This probably won’t happen overnight, and ti will take some practice and persistence for the strategies and tools to have an effect. Psychological exercises are similar to sports: Our brain is like a muscle that needs to be trained until you see noticeable changes. 

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