Do you fear being watched or judged by others? Is it affecting your relationships or work life? 6 ways you can deal with social anxiety disorder


Social anxiety disorder, which was earlier referred to as social phobia, is a mental health disorder wherein people experience excessive anxiety in social situations. This is because they fear being negatively evaluated or judged by other people. This may occur in situations which involve interactions with unfamiliar people, being observed, or making a speech or presentation. Often, it leads people to avoid such situations altogether, which may have an impact on their inter-personal or professional lives.

While many of us may feel a bit nervous when speaking in public, the tumble of emotions experienced as part of social anxiety disorder is far more heightened and can cause significant distress and impairment. To understand social anxiety disorder, we need to consider a bio-psycho-social model. Neuro-transmitter imbalances play a significant role in the causation of mental health conditions such as anxiety. Psychological factors include biases in thoughts and perceptions, the way we regulate our emotions, confidence, the ability to cope with stressors as well as our patterns of communication. At the same time, the contribution of the social environment around us, including that at home, in schools and the community at large, is also significant.

The treatment for social anxiety disorder also follows the same paradigm. Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to correct our maladaptive thought patterns while also reducing patterns of avoidance behaviours that further aggravate the condition.

It is known to have guided people to different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations. It further helps you learn and practise social skills and is usually used together with exposure therapy and relaxation drills.

Fostering an empathetic and caring social environment also goes a long way. Additionally, doctors may prescribe medicines to address the biological aspect of the condition.

While social anxiety disorder is a clinical condition that requires professional intervention, many of us may experience some number of jitters when confronted with a social situation. Here are a few strategies we can use in our day-to-day lives to overcome these nerves:

1) Gradual exposure: In order to avoid the anxiety that comes with a situation, we often end up avoiding the entire situation itself. The solution, instead, is to gradually expose ourselves and learn to tolerate and subsequently overcome the anxiety. Start small. If you have to make a speech in front of the whole school, practise first with your family, then a small group of friends, your entire class and so on.

2) Recognise your strength: Rather than focussing excessively on what you don’t know or are not good at, recognise what your strengths are and work towards building on those further.

3) Guided imagery: Visualisation is an effective strategy to help us mentally practise dealing with a social situation as well as relax us.

4) Celebrate your success: Every small step in your journey is a success. Instead of getting bogged down by negative self-talk, acknowledge your efforts and give yourself positive strokes to stay motivated.

5) Focus on other aspects: Don’t let the fear of social situations bog you down. There are many paths to success. Focus your attention on other facets of your life. Value yourself as a person to give yourself a boost in confidence.

6) Participate in social situations: Playing team sports or participating in group activities from an early stage is an effective way to learn and excel in a new skill while also interacting with people in an enjoyable environment.

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