Is it normal to feel social anxiety?

Social phobia: The fear of others

Curtain up - time for a lecture in front of an impatient crowd, who with their big eyes hangs on our lips with tension. The heart suddenly beats up to the neck or slips straight into the pants. The hands become damp, the knees weak. We all know the challenging feeling of speaking in front of other people and that's completely normal. But what happens when these feelings occur not only in extraordinary situations, but also in everyday life? Being the center of attention can mean extreme anxiety for people with social phobia. This creates feelings of panic and often avoidance behavior.

But where does a social phobia come from? Do people with social phobia just don't like other people? We answer these questions and give you an overview of the treatment options.

What is a social phobia?

We shouldn't really care what others think of us, shouldn't we? Nevertheless, it is really difficult to turn off such thoughts about the evaluation from the outside. For those with a social phobia, however, this is about much more. They are afraid of appearing strange, ridiculous, embarrassing, laughed at, or even humiliated. A fear that is so great that it can go hand in hand with panic attacks. This fear usually arises in social or performance situations - during exams, when talking, and yes, even when eating in public.

However, social contacts are an important linchpin of our social life, after all, our everyday life is shaped by social interactions. This means that the everyday life of people with social anxiety is riddled with moments in which they are confronted with their fear of people. This can be a visit to the doctor, small talk with the cashier in the health food store or a phone call with the new landlord. For those affected, it is often difficult to endure the idea that their fear is visible to the outside world. They fear that someone will notice that they are sweating, trembling, or flushing. These physical and psychological consequences of the fear reaction are a central aspect of social phobia.

Where does the social phobia come from?

The possible causes of a social phobia are diverse, multifactorial and can also interact. These include:

  • Genetic predispositions
  • Personality traits (e.g. shyness and fear of the unknown)
  • certain thought patterns (e.g. high demands on yourself or always assuming the worst)
  • High self-awareness ("Am I blushing again?" Or "My heart is beating faster!")
  • Controlling and overprotective upbringing style of the parents
  • Traumatic experiences with other people (bullying, etc.)
  • Stressful life events (e.g. breakups or the death of a loved one)

What are symptoms of a social phobia?

In the psychological diagnosis (according to ICD-10), the fear of negative evaluations by other people is the focus of social phobia. One consequence of this, and also a key diagnostic criterion, is the avoidance of social situations.

Additional traits are low self-esteem and a fear of criticism. Social phobias are often associated with an (actual or perceived) increase in physical complaints. These include, for example, blushing, trembling and sweating, but occasionally also nausea, the urge to urinate or panic attacks. These criteria are checked by psychotherapists in an interview.

It is also characteristic that these fears arise in social situations. This can be when eating in public, when speaking in front of others or when meeting other people.

Parties, classrooms or conferences can be very classic situations and places in which social anxiety occurs. The fear becomes particularly clear through physical symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, tremors, breathing difficulties, nausea or dizziness. During this fear, the feeling of a changed perception can also arise (derealization). Often there is a fear of losing control or the feeling of going crazy. Sometimes those affected even experience the fear of dying.

An emotional burden

The fear can also mean a significant emotional burden. The following avoidance behavior is sometimes perceived as stressful. For example, if we can no longer go to school or work due to the social phobia, or if we withdraw completely from social life. People with social anxiety are usually also aware that their fear is exaggerated and that the avoidance behavior is unreasonable. They know that from a rational point of view, there is no need to be so concerned.

So people with social phobia are not misanthropes who like to lock themselves in their four walls and cannot stand other people. On the contrary: that they suffer from their isolation is a clear criterion of the disease.

Treatment Options - What Can I Do?

It is often difficult for us to judge whether it is time to seek help. It is not uncommon for us to underestimate the urgency and seriousness of our problems. How about you? Do you notice that you are overly afraid of social situations or do you avoid meeting others for fear of embarrassing yourself? Then it can make perfect sense to seek help. Because there are good chances of a positive outcome, especially when starting therapy early.

Fear is a rudimentary holdover from our evolutionary past. It has been with us for thousands of years and has saved our lives at one point or another. There are now fewer saber-toothed tigers, but there are sometimes small inner shadow creatures. Our body still knows the same fear mechanisms from the past and sometimes assesses the situations of the present as more threatening than they really are. We can help him see things as they really are.

Gradually overcome the social phobia

One therapy option for people with social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy. The focus here is initially on restructuring unpleasant thoughts. In therapy, patients with fear of people learn to subject their thoughts to a so-called reality check. The thoughts associated with the social phobia are made aware, checked and, if necessary, adjusted.

We'll tell you a secret about fear: it usually ducks our head when we face it.

So exposure is a central part of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety. It is also important to break down avoidance behaviors by consciously going back to fearful places and situations.

The fear of the other. The fear of fear. These essential aspects of social phobia can make you dread to seek help. But maybe you can trust someone who will support you. For example, trying to find an appointment with a psychotherapist. Try to trust yourself and send an email. The first steps are usually the most difficult, but with a little courage you can soon feel better!

Categories Anxiety & PanicTags Coping with anxiety, Overcoming fear, Phobia, Psychotherapy