With summer in full swing and Christmas around the corner, the social calendar is filling up. While this is a happy time for many people, some of us can get anxious thinking about socialising at these events. This is a fairly normal feeling, especially if you don’t know the people well or will be in a new situation. But when does social anxiety become a problem?
What is a social anxiety disorder?
According to the DSM-5 (diagnostic manual for mental disorders), social anxiety is defined as a persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others. The person fears that they will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.
Social anxiety is also known as social phobia and it’s more than just being shy. Social anxiety results in the person avoiding situations even though they know their fear is unreasonable. The anxiety and avoidance will typically last for six months or longer.
A person with a social anxiety disorder has a persistent and an intense anxiety that prevents them from living their normal life. The fear can start to interfere with work, school and relationships.
What can cause social anxiety?
Like other anxiety disorders, there may be a number of causes. It can be a combination of genetics, environment, thinking style, physical health, and stressful events. It is estimated that 10% of Australians may develop social anxiety during their lifetime, with 4.7% experiencing it in a 12-month period.
Social anxiety symptoms
Common symptoms of social anxiety can include:
- Excessive perspiration
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Upset stomach
- Feeling tense
- Feelings of self-doubt
- Difficulty speaking – stammering, trouble concentrating, speaking too softly
- An urge to run away from the situation
- Realising that your feelings are irrational
Social anxiety treatment
If you think you are suffering from a social anxiety disorder, in the first instance you should visit your GP or a mental health professional.
The Australian Psychological Society recommends cognitive behaviour therapy (a type of talk therapy) as the most effective treatment. This therapy helps a person to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that can contribute to anxiety.
You can also try stress management, relaxation, and meditation techniques. This can be part of your therapy and may help to make your treatment more effective.
Making changes to your lifestyle such as reducing or avoiding caffeine and alcohol, getting a good night’s sleep and increasing physical activity can all help to lower anxiety and help towards recovery.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
If you need someone to talk to, reach out to one of our counselling services:
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
SuicideLine Victoria 1300 651 251