You hear them beginning your introduction and you know that in just moments you will have to walk up to the microphone, in front of all of those people, and open your mouth and force words to come out. You are sweating profusely. Your heart is pounding. Your legs are shaking. You think you might vomit. You have never wanted to run away so badly as you do right now.
This scenario is a common response to public speaking. Standing up in front of a group of people and presenting thoughts or even performing is not something a lot of people enjoy. But what if you had that same, intense emotional and physical response to saying hello to someone? Taking a test? Going to school? Leaving your room? Is it possible that social anxiety is real?
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and/or judged by others, or also a fear of embarrassment and/or failure. More than just thoughts, it is an actual mental condition that afflicts people daily for at least six months and is not always based on what is happening around you.
This type of anxiety can affect your ability to function in social situations, performance situations, testing or other high-pressure situations, and can disable you enough to prevent you from eating, sleeping, or even leave your home. Social anxiety is real, and it is more than just being afraid or nervous.
Nervous vs. Anxiety
Anxiety is more than just being nervous or afraid of something. Anxiety can be paralyzing, and while much of it occurs in your mind, it can significantly impact your body, too. When you are nervous, you are apprehensive of something to come. Sometimes we even use the word excitement as a synonym for nervous. However, synonyms for anxiety may include fear, dread, and terror. Anxiety is far more intense, and can occur even subconsciously, without you even being aware of what is causing you the anxiety. You might even experience anxiety well before a situation or event, and for well after.
How Anxiety Feels
People describe being nervous as feeling like they have butterflies in their stomach. Using that analogy, then anxiety feels more like there are fighter jets in your stomach. The nausea can be so intense that you may vomit or be unable to eat, and prolonged, untreated anxiety can cause unhealthy weight loss.
Anxiety can feel like pain in your arms or other parts of your body. You may feel tense or even rigid, and you may engage in repetitive activities such as biting your nails, chewing on your lips or mouth, or having uncontrollable movement in your hands, arms, legs, or feet. You may also feel particularly sweaty, tremble, or have your heartbeat increase for extended periods of time.
You may have persistent thoughts about situations where you felt embarrassed or judged, or you may not be able to stop thinking about situations which are upcoming in which you feel inadequate or unable to deal with. Anxiety can prevent you from sleeping as your mind is fixated on social or other situations which you don’t even have control over. Anxiety feels like you are all wound up and yet anticipating being shamed or judged, all at once.
What Anxiety Looks Like
Social anxiety can look like being shy, not making eye contact, not being able to speak or speaking so softly that you cannot be heard. Anxiety can look like you are avoiding people or avoiding participating, or you might actually do one or both of those things. You may look like you are going to be sick, and your face may go blank just your mind feels, too. Anxiety may look like you are embarrassed, such as blushing and looking at your feet, or awkward, like stammering or not answering. Anxiety looks like you would rather be anywhere else than where you are right now, doing anything else than you are expected to be doing right now.
Can I Find Help for Anxiety?
The good news is that you do not have to suffer with social anxiety. There are medications available, and therapy is very helpful, too. Using talk therapy helps you to retrain your brain about how to react in certain situations and how to stay mindful and present to avoid anticipation and physical reactions to your mental state. As you gain tools that help you to navigate your mind and accept the thoughts you are having without judgment, then you are better able to control the emotional and physical reactions to your thoughts.
Yes, social anxiety is very real. If you have social anxiety, then it is likely impacting your quality of life. Whether you struggle to meet people, make friends, perform in front of people, perform well at school, or even face the world at all, you deserve to live free of pain, tension, and other physical symptoms of anxiety. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are just nervous or afraid, because those conditions do not interfere with your body or your life the way anxiety does. Anxiety is a mental condition that is treatable. Make the choice to free yourself from the weights of anxiety today.
Social Anxiety is real. If it is real for you, please call Embark Behavioral Health 1-855-809-0409 today. We can help you learn to function without fear.