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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]

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Take long walks and exercise.
  • Distract your mind via games, TV, or any activity that engages you.
  • Control your breathing.
  • Drink lots of water.

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

How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning What an MBTI Personality Test Can Reveal About Your Relationships Why It’s Harder to Make Friends After 40 (and How to Combat the Odds) 13 Methods of Anxiety Relief that Don’t Require a Prescription 13 Crippling Social Anxiety Symptoms Explained & How to Deal with Them

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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