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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

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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