Social Phobia: When Anxiety And Fear Control Our Relationships

Social phobia: when anxiety and fear control our relationships

Fear can have tremendous force, and it is sometimes a necessary emotion. Fear allows us to know that there is something hostile around us and to react to it. A zebra that is not afraid of the predator that is chasing it would be a zebra with little chance of survival.

Sometimes, however,  this fear turns into an obstacle, because the mechanisms that activate it are altered. Anxiety is one of them. It presents with an intense feeling of fear and worry that begins in the presence of stimuli that are not really threats, as in the case of phobias.

Spiders, snakes, closed environments, heights… there are infinite stimuli to which we react with an irrational fear. Even  relationships with others can trigger this fear, a difficulty that is known as social phobia. Let’s see it in more detail.

What is social phobia?

Social phobia, or social anxiety, is a disorder in which people suffer from intense anxiety symptoms when they find themselves in social situations where they irrationally fear feeling judged, humiliated or ridiculed.

A person suffering from social phobia cannot relate to normality or carry out group activities, whether at work, at a party or in sports. He struggles to act in front of others, even if it’s just talking on the phone, asking for the bill, eating.

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Although  some people think it is a form of shyness, the truth is that social phobia is quite different. A shy person feels shame, sometimes fear, but in a very subdued form and this is normal in most people. On the other hand, when you suffer from social phobia, the symptoms of anxiety and fear are disproportionately intense and debilitating.

The physical symptoms experienced by a person with social phobia can be redness, excessive sweating, malaise and tremor, up to nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, tachycardia and anxiety attacks. Furthermore, these symptoms are not limited to the moment of social interaction, as one of the characteristics of this disorder is an exaggerated anticipation that leads the person in question to live in anxious states even weeks before the event he has to face.

The problem, as with other phobias, is that  in many cases the anxiety pushes the person to avoid the situations that frighten him,  creating a vicious circle in which the main objective is to avoid relating.

Social phobia impoverishes the life of the person suffering from it, makes it difficult for them to find work, friends, a partner and many other experiences. Whenever a situation that can cause anxiety is avoided, the fear grows and strengthens. The only way to overcome fear is, in fact, to face it.

Can you get out of the vicious circle of social phobia?

Overcoming social phobia is possible, but as in other problems related to anxiety, the path is long and requires strength and commitment. Recognizing and accepting the problem is the first step, then in most cases it will be essential to seek professional help.

Here are some tricks that can help you deal with and manage social phobia:

Be aware of the problem

Knowing what is happening is the first step in being able to work on it. However, it is important to be clear that we are not the problem, but that we have a problem. We all live moments of weakness and recovery, of virtue and fragility. We all have the right to be nervous or to make mistakes, the important thing is to head towards the path of recovery.

Working on self-esteem and self-acceptance is essential to overcome social phobia, as it puts us in contact with our essence and allows us to know ourselves. This will make it easier to accept what happens.

Man with social phobia on an armchair in the middle of the sea

Address fears gradually

Taking action is another vital step. To overcome a phobia, you have to deal with what scares you, but do it gradually. We can start practicing in environments that are not too hostile, such as family gatherings or with friends or other small groups.

Another way to progress is to face small challenges. If eating in public scares us, let’s try to take a snack with us, until one day we feel able to sit in the park and eat it. If we are afraid to intervene in the classroom, let’s sign up for courses in which we know there are few members to start interacting little by little. If what frightens us is the confrontation of opinions, we can start discussing something with a family member who is quiet.

The secret is to start a little at a time, moving towards the situations that generate us the most anxiety. Keeping some sort of archive of our achievements can motivate us a lot.

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Learn to manage anxiety

Finding your own personal way of dealing with anxiety will be of great help. For example, playing sports, meditating, learning relaxation techniques… The less anxiety we feel, the easier it will be to deal with it in the most difficult moments.

Seek the help of a professional

If we feel that we cannot do it alone or that we need external support, we do not hesitate to seek the help of a professional. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, in combination with the development of social skills and anxiety control techniques, has been shown to be effective in overcoming social phobia.

As we have seen, social phobia is a limiting problem that impoverishes our relationships, but we can gradually overcome it if we try hard. First of all we must have the courage to try.

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