Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a common anxiety disorder that causes a specific fear of social situations. It affects around 12% of people in the UK at some point their lifetime, more frequently affecting women and typically developing in teenage years . Whilst it is not uncommon for people to sometimes feel nervous or shy in social situations, social anxiety is a consistent feeling of worry or dread that makes it difficult to go about everyday life. The physical and emotional symptoms of social anxiety can put strain on relationships, affect self-confidence and self-esteem, and interfere with work or school life . Social anxiety can make it extremely difficult to meet or speak to people, to be around large crowds or talk on the phone. People with social anxiety disorder may also have an irrational fear of being watched by or humiliated in front of others .
Some indicators of social anxiety include excessive worrying before, during, and after a social situation, as well as avoiding social activities and having fears about interacting with strangers or groups. Many people with social anxiety have a constant fear of embarrassment or being judged by other people, including concerns about having physical symptoms such as sweating or difficulty speaking whilst interacting with others. An individual with social anxiety may also scrutinize their own social performance and interactions after a social situation and expect the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation .
For someone with social anxiety disorder, social interaction may lead to:
- Blushing and/or sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Rigid body stance or muscle tension
- Difficulty speaking or feeling as if their mind goes blank
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Rapid heart rate 
The stress and anxiety induced by socialising, or even the thought of socialising, can lead to avoidance and social withdrawal. This can impede on someone’s ability to do things they want or need to do, can put pressure on friendships and relationships, and can have negative impacts on educational or professional achievement, as those with social anxiety disorder are more likely to take time off school or work . While some people with social anxiety understand that their fears are irrational, the symptoms can be extremely difficult to control, making them feel powerless to overcome them. However, there are ways of treating and reducing symptoms of social anxiety that can allow people to manage and overcome their fears about social situations. For example, different types of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be useful treatments for social anxiety. Additionally, lifestyle changes and alternative ways to reduce anxiety include breathing exercises, meditation and yoga, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, getting regular exercise and enough sleep.
CBT helps with understanding and recognising the relationship between negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. For example, identifying how worries about a social situation (thought) may cause anxiety (feeling), leading to the avoidance of the social situation (behaviour). CBT therapists can help with learning how to spot these unhelpful patterns deal with them in a more beneficial way using new skills and tools that can be used both in and outside of therapy . ACT can help with learning how to accept anxious thoughts and feelings in order to reduce the influence of them. ACT therapists can help people to identify and accept their negative thoughts or feelings as experiences that will come and go, for example by incorporating mindfulness and using behavioural strategies to be more present in social situations. This can help individuals to start to live a more fulfilling life by taking committed action despite their negative feelings . Both CBT and ACT are effective forms of therapy for social anxiety, some therapists or counsellors may use an integrative approach in their therapy or counselling sessions, where ideas from both approaches, as well as some others are incorporated to best suit the individual.
Here at Surrey Therapy Practice, we have a team of experienced professionals who offer a range of treatments for social anxiety. Many of our team members use an integrative approach to tailor their treatment plans to specific individual needs. Our therapists, counsellors, and psychologists offer treatments both online and in-person in Banstead. If you think you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety, get in touch and make an enquiry here.