Are You Socially Anxious? Or Just Shy?
It really varies person to person and environment to environment how much social anxiety someone can feel. Overall, social anxiety is categorized as “extreme distress and impairment due to fear of being judged negatively by others.” Symptoms of social anxiety can crop up at various points: whether you’re about to give a presentation to a group of people, when you need to ask a question to someone in upper management at work, or even just dealing with crowds or parties.
The difference between shyness and social anxiety is those who are shy are usually more comfortable and at ease with the idea that they’re shy. Eventually, once becoming close with someone, they can overcome the shyness and feel comfortable. But social anxiety makes you feel both physical and emotional stress over the idea of failing at social interactions.
There’s a very brief test that can help you figure out how unmanageable your anxiety actually is. Answer the questions by rating yourself on a scale of 1 (never true) to 7 (always true).
1. Being socially anxious makes it difficult for me to live a life I value.
2. I tell myself I shouldn’t have certain thoughts about social anxiety.
3. I would gladly sacrifice important things in my life to be able to stop being socially anxious.
4. I criticize myself for having irrational or inappropriate social anxiety.
5. My social anxiety must decrease before I can take important steps in my life.
6. I make judgments about whether my thoughts about my social anxiety are good or bad.
7. My social anxiety does not interfere with the way I want to live my life.
8. I disapprove of myself when I feel socially anxious.
Once you’ve completed the quiz, you’ll notice that the odd-numbered questions all have to do with your level of social anxiety. Higher numbers for those answers mean that you are aware you do have social anxiety.
The even-numbered questions deal with your acceptance of your social anxiety, which is important because it helps you feel more open to finding a long-term solution. If your scores for those questions are on the lower end, it means you still have some work to do in terms of accepting that you are socially anxious. If your scores are higher, it means you’ve come to terms with it and you’re ready to figure out how to cope.
Here’s How You Can Handle Your Social Anxiety In A Healthy Way
The usual go-to response to admitting you have social anxiety is something along the lines of: “Calm down, you’re fine.” This is, obviously, easier said than done. But there are ways to handle your social anxiety in a productive and self-accepting manner, that will ease your stress in the moment.
Here’s something to keep in mind: social anxiety is usually caused by you overanalyzing the risk factor in a social interaction. Social anxiety actually impacts activity in your brain — once you begin overthinking a social interaction, an abnormally high number of signals start shooting off in your prefrontal cortex. Think about that the next time someone dismisses your anxiety as just “nerves” or “shyness” — it’s not that simple. It’s generating a fight-or-flight response in your brain. Your brain starts interacting with your sympathetic nervous system and begins generating physical responses to your initial stress: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and your pupil size grows. These then create a feedback loop in your brain, because you panic more the less you feel in control.
But it isn’t out of your control.
Allowing yourself to feel anxious in the moment can be helpful. When your brain starts firing off signals, your first reaction is to try and suppress them. Take a deep breath and let the anxiety wash over you for a moment. This is why it’s important to accept your social anxiety (revisit your answers to the even-numbered questions in the quiz), because once you’re aware that you do tend to feel anxious in certain social situations, you can begin to learn how to feel more in control of everything.
If you’re having a panic attack because of your social anxiety, there’s a very quick action you can take called the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. In the moment, identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This will give your brain enough time to calm the activity in your brain and body.
Afterwards, start redirecting your attention to other things in the moment. If you focus too much on the future social interactions themselves, you will be distracted by the embarrassment you’re stressed trying to avoid. Accept that you feel anxious, accept you can’t just avoid social interactions forever, and understand that you can’t be comfortable in every situation. These are the first steps towards keeping your social anxiety under control.