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Published on June 29, 2018

13 Crippling Social Anxiety Symptoms Explained & How to Deal with Them

13 Crippling Social Anxiety Symptoms Explained & How to Deal with Them

Those who suffer from social anxiety know it’s not a joke. On the surface, everything may seem okay but internally, your body is screaming for you to get away.

There are three main types of social anxiety symptoms: physical, cognitive, and behavioral.[1] Physical symptoms are how your body reacts to a social situation. Cognitive symptoms are how your mind reacts to it. And behavioral symptoms are what you do with those feelings.

This article will discuss 13 of the most crippling social anxiety symptoms and how to deal with each of them. By the time you are finished, you will have some strategies for dealing with your social anxiety.

Physical symptoms

1. Blushing

It’s common for blood to rush to your face when you are feeling anxious. It can, however, be super embarrassing and cause you to pull back even further from social situations.

If you find yourself blushing, try these steps to stop it:[2]

  1. Acknowledge the blushing.
  2. Breathe deeply and slowly.
  3. Make sure you are hydrated.
  4. Close your eyes for a few moments.
  5. Accept the blushing.
  6. Smile and laugh.

The key is to accept that this is normal that nobody is going to criticize you for blushing.

Most of the embarrassment you feel is internal; this is why closing your eyes, breathing deliberately and practicing smiling/self acceptance are so effective. It pulls you back to the present moment and makes you aware that you are in control.

2. Sweating

Sweating is actually a natural stress response related to the fight or flight system. Sweating is the body’s response to an internal trigger of excessive hormones, and increased heart rate and blood flow due to anxiety.

You are sweating because your body is being thrown into fight or flight mode and the internal churning is causing your body to warm up.

If you want to decrease anxious sweating, then follow these tips:[3]

3. Shaking

This is probably the worst physical symptom (and the hardest to control). It can be super embarrassing to have such an easily observable manifestation of your anxiety. This can also lead to some of the other social anxiety symptoms such as blushing and sweating.

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Shaking is another physical reaction created by your body’s fight or flight systems. It’s a byproduct of excess adrenaline in your system and thus, the best solutions are usually physical.

Here are some solutions for dealing with shaking:[4]

  1. Jogging.
  2. Deep breaths.
  3. Yelling (this helps use up some of that excess adrenaline).

4. Muscle tension

A review of the literature surrounding muscle tension and anxiety has actually found that muscle tension is not a direct result of anxiety.[5] Muscle tension, as it relates to anxiety, may be a result of an over-exaggeration of the symptoms of anxiety.

A more likely explanation, however, is that being preoccupied with excessive worry can keep you from being aware of how long your muscles are in tension.

Whatever the reasons for muscle tension, it’s useful to find ways to deal with this symptom before it becomes too bad. Here are some ways to do that:[6]

5. Trembling voice

Stress and anxiety can affect the quality of your voice.

Often the source of this particular symptom is the fear of being judged, self-doubt and overthinking. This causes your body to change as it does with the other symptoms and make your voice tremble, shake or crack.

If you want to address this symptom, here are some things you can try:[7]

It is not your responsibility to keep a conversation going. Each party needs to bring something to the table in order for conversation to flow smoothly.

So, imagine that your conversation is a tennis match:

Each thing you say is sent to the other person and it’s their responsibility to send something back. This will help take some of the pressure off of you and help reduce your anxiety.

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6. Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is one of the more common social anxiety symptoms. It usually happens when you are asked to speak in front of other people or when the focus of group conversation turns to you. Hyperventilation and shortness of breath can lead to anxiety attacks.

Shortness of breath is caused when you breathe too fast or when you think about your breathing. This causes you to take in more air than you need.

Here are some ways to manage this symptom:[8]

  • Slow breaths starting with and focused on your stomach.
  • Distractions such as TV, games, or books that take your mind away from your breathing.
  • Walking/jogging/exercise to raise your heart rate.

7. Dry mouth

Stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to reduced salivation in a socially anxious person.[9]

In other words, your anxiety can physically affect the amount of saliva you produce. This is, again, caused by the fight or flight response triggered by an event.

While it can be irritating and unexpected at times, it doesn’t have to be debilitating. You can reduce the occurrence of dry mouth and deal with it as it arises by doing these:[10]

  • Identify and acknowledge your triggers.
  • Increase your intake of water.
  • Practice breathing through your nose, not your mouth.
  • Use a humidifier where you can to keep the air you breathe moist.

8. Heart racing

Heart racing or heart palpitations, are both a symptom and a cause. In other words, you can have heart palpitations before you have anxiety. The anxiety, then, can be caused by a racing heart. This is usually how a panic attack begins.

Heart palpitations can be caused by something or they can be caused by nothing at all. This makes it one of the more frustrating social anxiety symptoms.

If you want to manage heart palpitations, then here are some tips for you to follow:[11]

The physical symptoms of anxiety can be frustrating, but if you are proactive, you don’t have to be debilitated by them.

Most of the solutions involve avoiding things that trigger your anxiety (i.e. caffeine, nicotine, etc.), practicing mindfulness (i.e. controlled breathing), and keeping your mind and body engaged and active (i.e. exercise and stretching).

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The cognitive symptoms are a little trickier. Let’s look at the three main culprits of social anxiety.

Cognitive symptoms

9. Negativity bias

Negative bias is the tendency for someone to discount positive experiences and social encounters and magnify the social abilities of others. The scientific reason for this is that people who suffer from anxiety tend to have a relatively small frontal cortex — a brain region under the temples that helps regulate thoughts and emotions.[12]

Those with a negativity bias tend to overthink things. They tend to label things as either “good” or “bad,” and tend to label more things as bad.

A person with negativity bias will also have heightened worries and fears and prolonged physical symptoms such as digestive issues or headaches.

To change your negativity bias and lower your potential anxiety, try these:[13]

  • Listen to your thoughts and pay attention to how often you assign a situation with a negative blanket statement.
  • Intentionally take note of what you feel is right so that you can have something to balance the negativity with.
  • Practice gratitude and keep a journal of all the things that you are thankful for in your life.

In short, negativity bias is dealt with through balance. Train yourself to see the good along with the bad, and this source of anxiety will dissipate.

10. Negative thoughts

Negative thoughts are automatic self-evaluations in a social or performance situation. Those with social anxiety can remember embarrassing moments years after they have been forgotten by everybody else.

Have you ever found yourself recalling a memory that made you embarrassed? Did you feel the anxiety from that moment all over again?

Negative thoughts can lead to negative beliefs, so it’s important that you try to nip this particular symptom in a bud before it gets out of control.

You can try to reduce negative thoughts and their power over you by doing these:[14]

  • Label your thoughts. Instead of saying “I am a loser,” say “I am having the thought that I am a loser.” This helps you disconnect from the source of the thought.
  • Recognize thought distortions. This could be black or white thinking, personalizing or catastrophizing. You think the worst, you think it about yourself, and you believe the worst is going to happen to you as a result.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Instead of laying down and just accepting the worst about yourself, make yourself prove it. Stop accepting that you a bad person. The more you do this, the more you’ll find that you’ve been distorting things for a long time.
  • Focus on your strengths and release your judgment of others. The same ferocity by which you judge others is how you will judge yourself. In fact, you can often discover how you feel about yourself by the way you label others.

11. Negative beliefs

Negative beliefs are strongly held beliefs that you have about yourself in social situations. The difference between a negative thought and a negative belief is that a negative belief is something you believe on an unconscious level.

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The most ironic thing about these beliefs is that they dominate so much of who we think we are, but we set them when we were too young to accurately do so. These beliefs go way back to childhood or teen years and can be very emotional to face.

Here are some ways to deal with these beliefs:[15]

  • Dig to the root of your emotional issues. Think about the first time you had that thought about yourself. Where were you? Who were you with? Recalling the memory helps you put the belief in perspective and later, decide its validity with your grown up way of thinking.
  • Do the work on your beliefs. Byron Katie has an amazing process for deconstructing negative beliefs.[16] It involves asking four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it is true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without that thought? These questions force you to see your belief for what it really is: a belief, not an unwavering truth.
  • Recognize the choice you have in how you feel about yourself. You have the ability to choose how you perceive your circumstances, what is possible in your life, and what gives you meaning. When you begin to see that it’s possible to be something other than depressed and anxious, you will begin to see that you have control over that perception.

Behavioral symptoms

12. Avoidance/Escape

When you allow your anxiety to control you, you begin to avoid taking risks or putting yourself in situations that trigger your anxiety.

In some ways, this can be a good thing. Avoiding things that trigger your anxiety can be a great way to manage your anxiety. In other cases though, it can be holding you back from living a rich and full life.

How often do you avoid going to a social event just because you know it will make you anxious? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to deal with the anxiety rather than let it define your life like that?

Here are some ways to deal with avoidance coping:[17]

  • Recognize that it doesn’t work. You are avoiding going outside of your house or to that party because you think it will make you anxious. However, you sit at home and are anxious and worry anyway. So, why not at least have some fun?
  • Recognize the costs of avoidance coping. How has your avoidance affected your relationships/friendships? The more you avoid these things, the more unhappy you will become. No person is an island and you can’t hide out and expect your relationships to flourish.
  • Learn to tolerate uncomfortable situations. The more you face your fear, the less your fear controls you. Practice being mindful when you are anxious, and learn to calm yourself using some of the techniques in this article.

13. Limiting/Safety Behaviors

This is avoidance coping’s twin brother. You may not avoid social situations but you tend to retreat into yourself or leave early whenever you can. Or you put up walls between yourself and others to protect yourself.

An example of a safety behavior would be to ask a person a bunch of questions in a conversation to keep the focus on them. Another example would be avoiding eye contact so as to avoid being noticed by others. In any case, these behaviors are not serving you.

Try these ways to deal with this symptom:[18]

  • Do the opposite of what your anxiety is telling you. Wear a brightly colored outfit to draw attention to yourself. Purposely drink a highly caffeinated beverage before a social situation so that you can feel shaky and flush. The difference here is to do it mindfully because the way to conquer your fear is to face your fear.
  • Be mindful of the safety behaviors you have in place and try something different. Often just being aware you are doing it can be enough to trigger a change.

Conclusion

We’ve learned many different types of social anxiety symptoms and how to deal with them. Anxiety can manifest itself differently for different people, so do what works for you.

At the end of the day, anxiety is the thing that is happening inside of you. The real you is the person who deals with anxiety every day and overcomes it. You are doing yourself a disservice by playing it safe. It’s time to set your true self free.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

James Leatherman

The founder of Happymindsets.com and is passionate about personal growth, psychology, philosophy and science

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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