By Angélica Pérez-Litwin
New Latina: Psychology Corner
Do you panic when you hear the words ”public speaking,” or "social networking?”
Does the thought of presenting to a group of colleagues enough to send you under a table for coverage?
What is Social Anxiety?
The Mayo Clinic defines social anxiety disorder as a chronic condition that causes an irrational anxiety or fear of activities or situations in which you believe that others are watching you or judging you. You also fear that you’ll embarrass or humiliate yourself.
Emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
* Intense fear of being in situations in which you don’t know people
* Fear of situations in which you may be judged
* Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
* Fear that others will notice that you look anxious
* Anxiety that disrupts your daily routine, work, school or other activities
* Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
* Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
Physical signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Stomach upset
- Difficulty talking
- Shaky voice
- Muscle tension
- Cold, clammy hands
- Difficulty making eye contact
You may also be affected by:
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble being assertive
- Negative self-talk
- Hypersensitivity to criticism
- Poor social skills
If this is you, allow me to remind you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Between 7 and 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers with social anxiety. Unfortunately, a large proportion of these individuals do very little to effectively deal with social anxiety. Many of them postpone seeking professional help because they manage to avoid the anxiety-producing situations. Others fail to seek help because they strongly believe that being shy or socially anxious is part of their personality and, hence, there is nothing they can do to change that.
The reality is that even if you grew up being “shy” – you can change. And if you experience social anxiety, there are effective ways to deal with this problem (read below).
The cost of social anxiety to your career success: In this current climate, where survival of the fittest at work is a real phenomenon, your performance at work may require more than the usual. With downsizing, you may be asked to step outside the safety of your cubicle and sell, train, manage or supervise out there in the social world. A confident, intelligent and persuasive presentation may be in order, or, you may be asked to travel internationally and meet with a group of executives to speak about your company. Failing to meet these important work-related tasks may jeopardize your work performance.
How to Deal with Social Anxiety: 9 Powerful Tips
1. Identify what situations cause the most anxiety.
Choose one situation and divide that situation into small steps that are not overwhelming. Then, practice each of those small step situations until you feel very comfortable engaging in it. For example, if you find it difficult to introduce yourself in social or work settings, divide this situation into the following steps: 1) spending a few minutes around the target person, or his/her desk or cubicle; 2) making brief eye-contact and smiling; 3) saying “hi”, “how you’re doing…?” or “welcome,” and then 4) fully introducing yourself. You do not need achieve all these steps with the same person, but rather with each new anxiety-provoking situation.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Many of the anxiety-producing behaviors are simply “learned behaviors.” Once you teach yourself (and your brain) that you can overcome these situations, your brain will begin to neutralize these behaviors and no longer associate them with anxiety.
3. Be patient and take your time.
You will most likely fail in your early attempts to put yourself out there. That’s fine. Keep at it. With time and practice, you will see some real change.
4. Talk about your social discomforts with someone you trust and also admires you.
Sharing with someone who likes you, and looks up to us, may be quite powerful. Supportive individuals may give you the perspective and insight into a blind spot you are not able to fully appreciate on your own. They may also give you the encouragement and support we need to begin tackling these challenges.
5. Practice relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing; a few minutes of visualization exercises) prior to the anxiety-producing activity.
6. Consider ALL of your personal qualities.
Remind yourself that your personal qualities (e.g., attractive, eloquent, smart, nice) may be the first qualities people notice about you, and not your particular fears.
7. Ask yourself: what is the worst thing that can happen?
This is a powerful question. Seriously ask yourself this question and answer it fully. Take it to the worst of scenarios and keep asking yourself the question until you cannot reach a worst scenario. Often times, you’ll realize that you can handle the worst, just fine.
8. When an embarrassing situation occurs, remind yourself that it will pass, and that you will be able to handle it.
9. If coping strategies do not help, or seem to decrease your anxiety, you should consider seeking the professional help of a psychotherapist. Cognitive therapy, in particular, can be quite helpful. Individuals with more severe symptoms may need medication to treat social anxiety. In this case, consulting a psychiatrist is highly recommended.