Social Anxiety | Causes, Symptoms & How To Cure It (22 Common FAQ’s)
In this article, I am going to go through 22 of the most common questions that I get asked about social anxiety.
It is important to remember that all of us, at some point in our lives, will suffer from social anxiety.
By reading this article you will learn how to:
- Overcome social anxiety
- Understand social fear
- Channel your bodily responses
Implementing the lessons outlined here will have a compounding effect on diminishing your social anxiety.
Moreover, your life will be fundamentally changed for the better.
We can help you overcome social anxiety in your dating. Watch our client testimonials on YouTube and book onto our next available dating confidence course: Dating confidence course for men reviews:
What is social anxiety?
There are two different types of social anxiety.
The first is an advanced fear of being in social environments:
You are scared in advance of going to specific areas where you are forced to be social.
The second one is the fear of being in a social situation:
When you are physically in a social situation and feel anxiety.
Both types of social anxiety are very difficult to deal with in the moment.
However, as we go through this article, you will learn some psychological tools that you can use to implement and ease your social anxiety.
In my dating confidence courses, social anxiety is an issue that comes up frequently for my clients. I find that it can help when we understand why we exhibit social anxiety from a biological perspective.
Social anxiety is a fear
Up until recently, we were tribal creatures, and what I mean by that is that we were in tribes perhaps of 50 up to 150 people.
It is biologically prudent to be wary of strangers and people we don’t know from different tribes. After all, we do not know what their intent is, and also the impact that they can make to our tribe.
If we wind forward to today it is evident that every time we leave home there are opportunities to meet people from all different walks of life.
In effect, we are encountering strangers every day.
Therefore it makes sense that we have retained an innate feeling of anxiety within us because, in the past, this anxiety would have potentially saved our lives.
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
In essence, social anxiety is our fight-flight or freeze response.
To give you a little bit more background on this, when we come across a stressful situation, our body tends to have three responses.
All three have some kind of bodily response within us that produces adrenaline and therefore stress.
When adrenaline is released, we have to channel its effects in some way.
If you do not know how to deal with a surge of adrenaline in your body, it is going to manifest as anxiety.
Many of us suffer anxiety in different ways.
For instance, we may:
- Start to sweat
- Get headaches
- Lose our balance
- Feel short of breath
- Have butterflies in our stomach
- Develop tension all over our body
- Feel overwhelmed by dread
These symptoms of anxiety, whether it is caused by social or any other form of anxiety, are always the same.
It manifests in our body as a result of the adrenaline release to combat the potential fear we face.
For example, men often exhibit high levels of anxiety faced with the prospect of approaching attractive women.
Many of the coping strategies to deal with anxiety are the same.
If you suffer any of the above symptoms at the thought of speaking to a woman you find attractive I recommend you take a look at the following infographic I have created.
You can also read my beat the fear of approaching women article where I give more explanation to each of the three ways.
What is the root cause of social anxiety?
In my experience, the root cause of social anxiety is always the same.
It is caused by a time in the past where we have already felt anxious or we have had a bad experience socially.
What our brain does is conjecture forward to see how that might play out if we were to find ourselves in a similar situation again. In other words, it makes an association aimed at helping us to ‘survive.’
If you imagine that you have had trauma before, the idea of going into a social setting can set off all kinds of fear and anxiety within your system.
The important lesson here is that the anxiety we face has been conditioned and, as a result, can also be reconditioned:
- All we have to do is to learn what our trigger is and then reprogram our response
- So instead of a thought that creates anxiety, a thought can create excitement
This is where meditative practices can change your life.
There are many different ways that meditation can help you to alter your response to triggers.
I have created the following infographic for you as a quick guide to meditation. You can also read the whole meditation article and watch my tutorial videos.
How do you develop social anxiety?
Social anxiety is developed when you do not face your fear.
If you picture the very first time you had a bad experience socially. And it results in you withdrawing from social situations, that fear is going to build more over time.
Whereas if you are someone who has had a bad or negative experience socially. However, the very next day you go and put yourself in that same situation again. Only, significantly, this time you experience something different.
Perhaps you even have a more positive experience.
In consequence, social anxiety is not going to develop in your life. This is because you have given your brain a different outcome to process.
It is important to recognise that you develop social anxiety by withdrawing socially.
There are a few ways in which you can withdraw:
- By not physically going to social situations
- Withdrawing into yourself in social settings
Having awareness of both of these types of anxiety can help you to recognise your triggers.
Moreover, it will help you in overcoming your stressors through the meditation practices I mentioned earlier in this article.
Can social anxiety be cured?
Yes, it absolutely can.
In my experience working as a professional coach over the last 10 years, I have helped many of my clients overcome social anxiety.
In essence, it comes down to two things:
- One is making a decision that you are going to deal with your social anxiety and you are going to overcome it
- Once you come to that decision in your mind, you are 80% on your journey to being cured
The final 20% is about facing fear at that moment.
A few tools such as power posing and affirmations can be extremely potent in dealing with social anxiety at the moment by enabling you to channel the adrenaline into positive feelings inside of your body.
I cover both of these strategies, and more, later in this article.
If you experience anxiety approaching attractive women, then see my infographic guide below.
I also advocate you read my how to overcome approach anxiety article to learn more.
How common is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a common response or apprehension that many of us will experience at some time in our lives. Indeed, it can be reassuring to know that everyone, at some point in their life, suffers from social anxiety.
All it takes is one bad experience socially for it to leave what feels like an indelible mark imprinted on you.
Then the next time you are faced with a similar circumstance, you will have anxiety.
In my experience, many of us feel socially isolated because we do not feel connected with the world. We feel like we are the only one that has a problem.
That is why it is worth looking into any areas that you struggle with like social anxiety for instance. It helps you to recognise that most of us, most of the time, are the same. We have the same responses and fears.
Therefore take the time to:
- Read articles on social anxiety
- Listen to related podcasts
This will help you understand how affecting even one negative experience can be on altering the way our mind works. How a negative association in our mind then causes us to conjecture forward, resulting in experiencing anxiety and fear for the future.
Importantly, it will show you that you are not alone in experiencing social anxiety and that there is help out there once you have made the decision to get to grips with overcoming it.
In other words, it empowers you.
Am I shy or do I have social anxiety?
That is a great question.
And the reason why it is a great question is that social anxiety and shyness are two different things.
I would define social anxiety as having anxiety about being in a social situation.
In contrast, someone who is shy is more than happy to go to social situations. They are simply shy or feel reserved about starting or being in a conversation.
You do not have anxiety when you are shy
With social anxiety, you have an adrenaline bodily response that, if you do not know how to manage, manifests itself as anxiety.
So the differentiator here is that in being shy there is no flight, fight, or freeze response.
If you are a reserved or shy man then you will benefit from looking at my infographic below.
I also suggest you read my related dating coach for men article where I outline tips that will help you make a connection with women.
At what age does social anxiety begin?
For me, labelling someone as having a social anxiety disorder can be ambiguous because social anxiety can be very situation-specific.
For example, an individual may experience social anxiety when they find themselves in a group of more than ten. However, anything less than that and they feel comfortable.
Therefore it can be somewhat reductive in making any generalisations about social anxiety, including trying to determine the common age at which people may first develop social anxiety.
However, I do assert that social anxiety is situation-specific.
Additionally, it can also develop into a global belief if you do not take action to try and deal with it using some of the strategies that I am outlining in this article.
What happens if social anxiety is left untreated?
If you do not confront your social anxiety, what tends to happen is that, over time, you withdraw more and more.
You are likely to become more insular and you miss out on feeling connected with the world.
Being isolated is detrimental to your mental wellbeing because:
- Having connections with people is vital
- Drawing on a support network is all-important
- Feeling confident in social situations helps you thrive
All of these enhance your mental wellbeing through life.
When you are able to recognise that it is simply a fear that is based on one or two experiences from your past, this alone can help you start to heal your trauma.
One other proactive way that you can manage your social anxiety is by instilling boundaries in different areas of your life.
For instance, in dating, setting expectations and boundaries enable you to relax. They will help you stay within your levels of comfort when you enter into a new relationship and frame it the right way from the start.
I have created the following infographic as an easy guide to help you set boundaries in your dating life that will support your mental well being.
You can also read my healthy boundaries with women article.
How can I get rid of social anxiety fast?
For me, the answer to that question is primarily dealing with it at the moment you are experiencing it.
I mentioned power posing and affirmations earlier on in this article. When you go to a social situation and you are feeling anxious, you can learn to channel that adrenaline in positive ways:
- The first is with power posing
All you have to do is move your body into a power posing posture; stand up straighter, lift your chin, and stand in a powerful way that will channel some of your anxiety and allow you to feel powerful rather than anxious.
- The second is using affirmations
These are powerful words that you say to yourself to interrupt a negative thought pattern and bodily response.
This can be anything such as; I can do this, it is only a fear, or let me get through this.
These are all powerful mantras.
You can come up with your own personal mantras too; any words or sentence that allow you to deal with the anxiety at that moment.
- The third is by simplifying your anxiety
There is also one final way that works well and this is breaking your anxiety down into the smallest possible segment.
So if you experience social anxiety when in a group of 20 people, focus simply on talking to one person first. In effect, breaking it down by viewing it as only one or two people rather than there being 20 people there.
When you become competent at this, you can then start talking to bigger groups.
So you break it down and make it simple. Consequently, your mind relaxes, and the anxiety will diminish because you are putting less pressure on yourself.
What should I do if I think I have social anxiety?
If I put myself in your situation I would start by contemplating:
- Am I anxious before I go to a social situation?
- Or am I anxious in a social situation?
They are two different things.
If you are anxious when you are at a social setting, then power posing and affirmations can help you.
However, if you find that you experience anxiety in advance of going to a social setting, there are some other tools that can help you.
Meditative practices are very powerful in dealing with social anxiety.
Simple steps include:
- Imagine yourself going to a social event
- Take time to picture your worst-case scenario
- Allow the emotions to bubble up
- Breathe slowly through your nose and calm your nervous system
What you are doing is managing the risk within your mind, by conjecturing forward while simultaneously calming down and dealing with the physical symptoms that arise in that situation.
When you face the worst possible scenario in your mind, and then you actually go to that social setting, your body already knows that you can cope with whatever is about to happen.
It effectively acts as a helpful blueprint for your mind and subsequently your emotions and bodily responses.
Helping men overcome anxiety with approaching women is one of the fundamentals that I teach on my dating confidence courses, as outlined in my infographic guide below. Mastering this fear will change your life.
Can you beat anxiety without medication?
This is a big topic as anxiety is a massive area and following on from this social anxiety is a massive area.
I can only talk from my personal experience about helping the people that I have coached in overcoming social anxiety.
In my professional opinion, yes, you can certainly deal with social anxiety without medication.
However, I also recognise that there are levels.
If your anxiety is at the point where you can’t manage it by yourself and you view it as fairly high on a scale of one to ten, then seeing your doctor can be a positive first step.
If you are someone who has a lower severity level and wants to learn coping strategies and techniques to improve their life, then you should be able to deal with it without medication.
It really is your personal choice on what steps to take.
What I will say is that deciding whether to take medication or not isn’t a static choice set in stone. You can reach out to your doctor, or any other healthcare professional, at any point on your journey.
Can you self diagnose social anxiety?
Once you recognise that social anxiety is simply being anxious in social situations, of course, you can diagnose yourself. However, I would advise you to be careful with the use of the word diagnosis.
- In labelling yourself as having a problem it can amplify it in your mind: “I suffer from social anxiety”
- If you instead say: “I am anxious in that social situation,” it is a much calmer way of dealing with your feelings
How we label the feelings that we have is ultra important in dealing with social anxiety.
To clarify, being more precise in your thinking, and less generalised will strengthen your mindset. For example, you can change: “I have social anxiety” to “I have anxiety in groups of more than six people.“
Changing the way that you are communicating with yourself will help you in dealing with your social anxiety.
So, to sum up, yes, you can diagnose yourself, but take care using the word diagnosis.
How do you talk to someone with social anxiety?
The answer to that is to use emotional intelligence.
If you are speaking to someone who is anxious in that situation, one of the things that you can do is simplify it for them by saying:
- Let’s go and have a chat outside
- We can go and sit over there
- How about we go for a walk
In essence, you need to remove them from the cauldron of social people and give them an exit route.
In taking them out of that situation you enable them to calm down and relax.
A lot of people suffer from social anxiety so next time you are in a social setting see if you can help them by using this strategy.
The other way in which you can help someone with social anxiety is by demonstrating empathy to understand how they are feeling.
Being able to demonstrate empathy is an invaluable skill in connecting with people generally.
In my infographic below you will find five ways that will help you form a connection with women, though you can really apply these to connect with anyone in your life.
Read my how to connect with women article where I go into more detail on this.
What can you not do with social anxiety?
Social anxiety can be such a big fear for people that they end up not living their lives to their full potential.
It can manifest in so many different ways that you are not aware of, and simply caused by something that has happened in the past.
Your brain becomes wired to make you anxious or fearful about events in the future. Moreover, it can be tremendously debilitating in your life.
Social anxiety can stop you from doing so many things in your life. For example:
- Progressing in your career because you can’t speak within groups
- Public speaking because you are anxious about attention being on you
- Going to the gym because you are fearful of judgement and feeling out of place
- Making friends as you are scared to start new conversations.
- Getting on better with your family
Unfortunately, unless you take the steps required to overcome it, you are not going to be able to lead an anxiety-free life.
It is always going to be in the back of your mind, preventing you from living your life the way you want to.
How can I help my partner with social anxiety?
Letting them know that you are there to support them in social situations is huge because it gives them the support that they need.
The very first thing you can say is: I am going to be there for you. And if you are worried or anxious at any time we can:
- Take a break
- Leave right-away
- Have a moment together
Just let them know that you are there to support them and you are there to help them if they need it.
What you do not want to do is:
- Put pressure on them
- Have a go at them
- Force them to be sociable
In essence, your intention should be to encourage your partner in helping them overcome their anxiety and working on it together.
It can become a joint goal and then, step by step, their anxiety can be reduced. And both of you together can create a stronger bond in your relationship.
However, if your relationship has come to an end due to anxiety then my infographic below will help you when you are ready to begin dating again.
If this is beneficial to you then you can also read my dating after divorce for a man article.
Can someone with social anxiety get married?
It is not like if you have social anxiety you are never going to meet anyone and you are not going to enter a relationship.
That is simply not true.
If you have social anxiety and it is bad, you have likely ended up working in jobs that are more insular, so you may meet fewer people.
However, you will still be able to meet people.
The people you meet may resonate on the same frequency or level as you. In other words, you may find that you attract a partner who is also more insular in their outlook.
Rest assured that relationships can be formed, even if you have social anxiety.
Does social anxiety cause anger?
Social anxiety can cause a multitude of different emotions because when you are faced with a situation that you do not want to face you have adrenaline in your system.
You have the flight, fight, or freeze response running amok in your body.
A lot of people will do whatever it takes to get out of that situation and, likewise, away from dealing with these emotions.
Anger is certainly one way that people deal with it. They get angry and lash out so that they do not have to face up to their fear.
It is interesting because anger can come from many different sources. Many people aren’t aware that it can be triggered by having social anxiety.
Can anxiety ruin relationships?
Yes, it can.
And the reason for it is because if someone is anxious, and they leave it unchecked, then typically they will start worrying more and more.
The more someone worries, the more of a burden they place on their partner who may feel they have to make different choices. Or perhaps even live in a different way to accommodate their partner’s anxiety.
It turns into a cycle of anxiety.
This can be debilitating both for you and also your partner as you may:
- Develop into someone who is not calm to be around
- Make your partner more anxious, scared and worried for you
This is the reason why meditation is such a great way of dealing with all forms of anxiety, not just social anxiety, but any anxiety.
Meditation can be a fantastic way of:
- Calming your nervous system
- Overcoming your issues around anxiety
If your anxiety has ruined your relationship and you now feel ready to date again, then my following infographic can help you with ideas on where to meet more women.
You can also read my how to get back into dating feature to learn more.
How to cope with social anxiety?
One powerful way to cope with social anxiety is with the use of goal setting with a deadline.
I want to point out here that I teach goal setting differently to most people.
Furthermore, if you are trying to cure social anxiety I will explain why the way I teach it will be extremely beneficial to helping you overcome this issue.
So we have established that social anxiety is, in its essence, a fear. Therefore it is linked to pain.
To elaborate, if you are anxious about going and starting a conversation with three people then you perceive it as a painful process.
Give yourself leverage to beat your fears
In my experience, one of the most potent ways that you can overcome that fear is to give yourself leverage by having a more painful experience by not doing it.
To set yourself an achievable goal:
- Keep a journal every evening and write out: “I’m going to start a conversation with someone within the next three days”
- The following day you write: “Start a conversation with someone. Two days to go”
Here is the trick – You write about your experiences of trying to do it. So you have a set goal and you have your deadline.
Write about it every day, but make sure you write how many days you have left.
Crucially this will have the following effect:
- That impending deadline gives you a sense of running out of time
- The more painful it is for you to miss, then the more likely you are to overcome the issue of social anxiety
- When the countdown is approaching 0 days your mindset is altered to overcome your fear and start that conversation.
This is a fundamental principle of life. It is not simply related to social anxiety.
It can be applied to any area of your life.
Taking action will strengthen your mindset
In short, having a set goal with a deadline and a count down is invaluable, because that impending deadline is extremely powerful for overcoming social anxiety.
By the time you get to zero days, your mindset will be different, and moreover, your life will be different.
You will have begun to take action.
Once you have successfully initiated a conversation with someone you will want to progress onto developing that conversation to make a more memorable and impactful impression on the person that you are speaking to.
Below you will find an infographic I created to highlight the three types of intelligence that will help you engage and carry on a conversation with women. Again though, these can be applied to improving your conversations more generally.
I also suggest you read my corresponding how to carry on a conversation with women article where I go into detail on how to employ and develop each type of intelligence.
How do you deal with social anxiety?
One potent way to deal with social anxiety is to break it down into smaller steps.
Most of us most of the time when we have fear, we tend to make that fear bigger in our minds.
For instance in thinking about talking to someone:
- We are hit with the thought: “What happens if I get rejected?”
- We may experience physical sensations like sweating, racing pulse and butterflies in our stomach
However, when you make that process bigger in your mind, you are creating a huge barrier to starting a conversation, and subsequently, to overcoming your anxiety.
Here is one simple thing that you can do.
You can break it down into the smallest steps.
Taking the smallest steps builds self-efficacy over time
As an example, you want to start a conversation with someone. Think about what is the first step to starting a conversation?
- It is not actually opening your mouth to speak
- The first step is getting close enough to someone
If you can get close enough to someone you can then start a conversation.
So you can break it down like this:
“Okay, so today I am just going to get close enough to start a conversation as the first step to beating social anxiety. I’m not even going to start a conversation.”
What happens when you do that is it becomes manageable in your mind.
And over time you will notice:
- That your confidence is growing
- Likewise, your anxiety and fear is diminished
- You are gradually building self-efficacy
Visualisations can help to reduce stress
If getting physically close enough to start a conversation with a woman is still too difficult then visualisations can help you.
Simply visualise it in your mind; walking up to her and starting a conversation.
Another alternative is to draw out a picture.
If you had to get physically close enough to someone to start a conversation, how would you do it?
Visualising it in your mind is a very powerful first step as it gives you a blueprint in your mind.
This helps to:
- Make the process manageable
- Reduce the fear
- Create change in your life
Visualisations can be used in any area of your life, such as exercising for example:
What is the first step I will take today? I am just going to put on my shoes.
When you begin to make it manageable, it makes it easier to cope and to take the first steps towards achieving your goal and beating social anxiety.
One common and overriding cause of anxiety can be shame or embarrassment linked to past traumas we have experienced in our lives.
Below you will find an infographic that I created as a guide to help heal toxic shame. This is a summary of a technique that I teach to clients on my courses.
If this is something that will benefit you you can read my full toxic shame article, along with supporting tutorial videos.
How to overcome social anxiety?
One great way in which you can overcome social anxiety is to find a role model. There are a few different ways you can go about this.
You can find a role model who has cured social anxiety for themselves. They will be able to teach you how they have gone about it.
Or you can find someone who is already very confident socially. Look at what they do and understand how they do it.
Ask them questions about their belief:
- “How did you manage to walk over there and start a conversation?
- What were you thinking?”
However, being on Skype or phone call isn’t effective enough. Instead, you need to exist in the same space as your role model, so go out together.
This way you are able to:
- Absorb their air of confidence
- Observe their body language and demeanour
- Understand their belief system
Moreover, you can start soaking up some of their knowledge, but that only happens when you spend time with the appropriate person in the real world.
For anyone who wants to understand more about overcoming fear and how this is linked to a fear of rejection, take a look at my infographic below.
I suggest you also read my how to handle rejection with women article where I discuss the three types of rejection we can feel and the steps needed to curb each one.
- Goal setting with a countdown. The first one is setting a goal with a deadline, keeping a journal, and making sure every day you write out how many days you have left until that deadline hits. For instance, “I’m going to start a conversation with someone in five days.”
- Simple first steps. The second way is to break the overall process of starting a conversation with someone down into manageable steps. What is the smallest first possible step to take on day one? Visualisations can also help you here as it gives you a blueprint in your mind which will help diminish fear.
- Find role models. Find real-life role models who you get to spend time with face-to-face, so you can understand their belief system, observe their body language, and learn from them.
Written by Gary Gunn
Gary Gunn is the bestselling author of An Education In (Online) Dating.
He has hosted over 1000 dating confidence courses in the UK and Europe, as well as over 1,500 courses conducted online.
Moreover, he is the head coach at Social Attraction and leads the team, training and courses.
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