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Health and Wellbeing

08 Jul 2020

Anxiety in social settings

By Rajna Bogdanovic - Clinical psychologist

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety involves fear of certain social situations, especially ones that are unfamiliar or where you might be watched and judged/evaluated by others.

The thought of these situations brings so much fear that it may lead the individual to go to great lengths to avoid them, which can pose a huge disruption in life. People with social anxiety may also fear being scrutinised or embarrassed in public, there is a fear that they might not measure up when compared to others.

Situations that could trigger social anxiety may include meeting new people, public speaking, performing on stage, making phone calls, going to parties, and many more.

There are four thinking styles that may fuel social anxiety:

  1. Mind reading - assuming that you know what other people are thinking about you, and that they think negatively of you in the way you might see yourself.
  2. Fortune telling - predicting that the worst will happen in future situations, that you know something will go wrong; making you anxious before the situation even takes place.
  3. Catastrophising - making things more serious or exaggerated than they are, such as if people notice that you are anxious it will be terrible or disastrous for you.
  4. Personalising - assuming that all people are focusing on you negatively or that other people’s negative thoughts have to do with you.

How to reduce anxiety

To avoid the four unhelpful thinking styles of social anxiety, there are three main tips you can utilise to reduce anxiety in social situations:

  • Challenge your negative thoughts: To challenge negative thoughts you must first identify the negative thoughts that are automatically there when you think about social situations - an example of this is if you have a big presentation coming up, thinking that you are going to fail or people will think you are not capable of doing it. In this case try analysing and challenging these negative thoughts: is it certain that these bad things are going to happen? What is the more realistic outcome and positive outcome from this situation?
  • Move your focus to others, rather than yourself: If you are socially anxious, sometimes you turn inwards to how people may be judging you or thinking about you in this situation. To combat this, put your focus on other people, engage and make a real connection without thinking about what others might be thinking of you, listen to what is being said by others and focus on staying in the present moment rather than worrying about what you are going to say or feeling disappointed that you may have said the wrong thing. Keep in mind that your nervousness or anxiety is not as visible as you may think, and if someone does notice you are nervous that does not mean they will think negatively about you.
  • Control your breathing and your body: When anxiousness takes over you may begin to breathe more rapidly which can trigger more physical symptoms of anxiety such as dizziness or muscle tension. In learning to slow your breathing this can reduce physical symptoms of anxiety and bring you back into the moment •

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