Social anxiety is not a myth or an imaginary ailment. It actually affects more people than you think. It’s a combination of physiological responses in our body (anxious sensations) and a psychological component (anxious thoughts and behaviors) that happen or take place as we face certain social situations.
If you are interested in learning more about what social anxiety is, feel free to Google it or go to: http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/disorder/#what. I’m going to focus more on what goes through one’s head during a social situation if you experience social anxiety and how to help someone who experiences it.
Imagine you are in front of an audience of strangers preparing to give a speech. You have practiced what you are going to say or at least you have prepared an outline of important points, maybe inserted some jokes here and there, but you have rehearsed it a few times at least in your head if not out loud in front of a mirror. Now imagine doing that for the simplest of conversations – either with a friend or a stranger. In a nutshell, that’s what it’s like to have social anxiety. All of the nervous energy, the blushing, the sweaty palms perhaps, dry mouth, shortness of breath – it all applies to even the most common of social interactions. Sometimes it’s not as bad with people you know, and it’s more intense with strangers. But it can happen in any social situation and the negative thoughts that play into the situation – “I look foolish,” “they are not going to want to talk to me again,” etc. – all hinder us from being ourselves in a social situation.
It’s not so much as we can’t express ourselves freely, but it’s a sort of nervousness that takes over as we find ourselves surrounded by a large group of people perhaps, or even a single person we do not know so well. We have to find a way to break through that nervousness, those negative thoughts, the physiological responses that our body goes through, as we face these situations head on. For some, that means medication as a form of treatment, for others it takes a getting used to, a getting comfortable with being in an uncomfortable state. But all in all, it shouldn’t hinder us from participating in social situations and events that are at times essential to our human existence. We should be there for important events in our family’s life, for our friends, for loved ones as we do care about them just as much as anyone else does if not more.
In any case, social anxiety is a real problem that several people face on a daily basis, and there are things you can do to help. If you notice that someone retreats from social interaction or does not like being the center of attention, do not force them to interact against their will. This does not help in any way. If anything, this could make their symptoms worse. Let them approach the situation if and when they are ready. They will eventually come around. Try not to put them on the spot when they are interacting. Just be patient with them as they speak. Try to remember that they are undergoing these symptoms (physiological and psychological – dry mouth to negative thoughts) as they speak with you. Sometimes you will notice a tick or some kind of impediment. Just be respectful in trying not to draw attention to it. You want them to feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Eventually, the tick will disappear as they become more comfortable speaking with you.
Try to seek out conversation topics that interest them and watch them bloom into social creatures even just for a moment perhaps. Encourage this type of interaction, and it will help them grow greatly for humans innately crave social interaction. It’s in our genetic makeup. And anyone who experiences social anxiety has this internal conflict to deal with as well. Here we have a deeper need and notion to interact, and then thoughts and sensations that negate this need when faced with an interaction. So be kind and take care in your interactions with others whether they appear to be nervous or not, for you can only imagine what is going through their mind or their body while they are conversing with you.