As we begin to navigate the re-opening of public places and the relaxing of Covid-19 regulations, it is important to remember that for some, a return to a more social way of living presents a frightening prospect. For many suffering with social anxiety, the pandemic has offered a certain amount of relief. Advice from the government to limit social contact has given many a chance to avoid the types of situations that caused them anxiety previously. Coming out of lockdown, therefore, is perhaps not as exciting a prospect for some people as you may expect.
Social anxiety (formerly known as social phobia) is the third most common psychiatric condition seen in the UK, and mostly begins in childhood or adolescence. Although often labelled as shyness or awkwardness, social anxiety can cause a persistent and life-altering fear of social situations or occasions where there may be the potential for embarrassment. It can have extremely serious effects on young people, and commonly leads to further mental health issues including bipolar disorder and depression and can also be a cause of substance misuse. Although the majority of people suffering from social anxiety begin to experience the issue before they turn 20, it is not unheard of for the condition to develop later in life. Many can recall a specific event or occasion that caused their social anxiety to start, such as a first day at a new school, or a humiliating incident that had a big impact on them.
Hypnotherapy can be used to help clients overcome the anxiety caused by social situations, and can be a good solution for those with Social Anxiety Disorder.
How can social anxiety affect your everyday life?
Life can be really difficult for those who suffer from social anxiety! Many people who suffer from this disorder find that everyday situations and tasks such as having to make phone calls to strangers, having to interact in group situations or with people outside of their close circle can be frightening and distressing. Some actively try to avoid these situations, which can have an impact on their work life and the opportunities they feel able to take up, whilst also having a negative effect on their ability to make and maintain friendships and participate in social activities. Avoiding anxiety therefore can come at the cost of not being able to live a full, happy and successful life.
For children suffering with social anxiety, it has been measured that exam grades and educational performance can be adversely affected by the disorder. Adults with social anxiety are less likely to form romantic relationships and get married, and if they do get married they are more likely to get divorced than those who do not have social anxiety. Those suffering from the condition report higher instances of missing work and report lower work productivity.
Some people, on the other hand, choose to push themselves to continue to lead a normal life despite their social anxiety, and attend events and gatherings notwithstanding their feelings of fear around these situations. In spite of this, living with the effects and symptoms that social anxiety causes can lead people to suffer distress and discomfort, and can diminish the enjoyment that they might otherwise feel when socialising.
Close friends and family members of those who suffer from social anxiety can often feel sad or worried about the effects of this, particularly on those who become reclusive or start to suffer from other related issues such a substance misuse and depression. It can be difficult to live with and care for a person who suffers from social anxiety, particularly if you do not know how to help them.
What are the signs of social anxiety?
There is no specific test to diagnose social anxiety, however the condition can be recognised by a few different characteristics. If you or someone you know suffers from an ongoing fear and discomfort with social situations, it may be worth considering whether you recognise any of the following signs:
Fear of being judged by others
- Worrying that you may be embarrassed, and imagining embarrassing situation which may occur
- Strong fear of social interactions
- Physical signs, such as sweating, shaking, blushing, heart racing, breathlessness, dizziness, muscle tension and feeling that your mind has gone blank and you have nothing to say
- Fear of others noticing your anxiety
- Avoidance of certain situations or conversations
- Replaying your social interactions after the event, and focusing on flaws in your ‘performance’
- Always speaking quietly
- Providing short answers to questions with minimal details
- Avoiding eye contact when speaking to someone
What causes social anxiety?
Social anxiety falls into the category of an anxiety disorder. In general, an anxiety disorder is caused by the manifestation of our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response. Most mammals have developed this physical response as a method of protection against predators in the wild. Our caveman ancestors would have found this response extremely useful in helping them to fend off attacks by opposing tribes, or to prevent them from being eaten by lions or bears! When a threat such as an angry opposing tribesman or a hungry lion approached, our bodies would be flooded with adrenaline, which had certain effects such as speeding up our heart rate and pumping blood to our limbs to help us to run away quickly or to fight back. The memory of past frightening events would trigger this reaction to fire up at the first sight, smell or sound of that threat returning, to help us to become even more nimble and to heighten our abilities of self-defence.
Fast forward to the present day, and this once useful response has an entirely different effect on our lives. For most, the threat of being eaten or killed at any moment is vastly diminished compared with ancient times. Nowadays, other things scare us much more. The fear of rejection, of negative judgment and of humiliation factor much higher in our list of worries, and for those experiencing social anxiety, these are the fears that trigger our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. It is not so useful, and often completely inappropriate, however, to fight or to flee in the face of our social fears, and this leaves many with physical symptoms as a result of the rush of adrenaline that is caused- including those mentioned above such as a racing heart, blushing, shaking and breathlessness. It is hard to get rid of these symptoms without playing out the responses for which they were designed (fighting or fleeing) and this can leave sufferers in a state of discomfort, which can then lead to further fear and worry around the idea of the situation or similar situations recurring.
How can hypnosis help?
Several studies have shown that social anxiety does not tend to go away unless the person receives treatment for the condition. In fact, in many cases, social anxiety can worsen over time, meaning that it is very important for sufferers to seek treatment in some form as early as possible!
Hypnosis is one such treatment, and although more studies need to be done to measure the effects of hypnosis on social anxiety specifically, hypnosis has been shown to have huge positive effects on sufferers of a variety of anxiety related issues.
As the condition is almost always caused or directly linked to an event in the sufferer’s early life which caused them to feel negatively judged, mocked or ridiculed; regression hypnotherapy, in which the therapist uses hypnosis to place the sufferer into a relaxed and suggestible state can be the perfect solution. This is because hypnosis allows access to subconscious thoughts and memories so that the hypnotherapist can help a client to access, work with, and reframe these negative thoughts and memories and can therefore change a person’s reaction to the kinds of events that might trigger their anxiety in the future.
You can read more about the work I do with hypnosis for sufferers of social anxiety here: https://www.davidsamson.co.uk/treatments/hypnotherapy-for-social-anxiety/