There's no escaping the fact that human beings are inherently social animals. Several lockdowns over the last 2 years have very much reinforced the fact that we need other people around in order to thrive, and our mental health very much depends on interactions with other people. It's one of the many reasons the pandemic has been so very difficult for all of us. Being isolated from our family and friends doesn't come naturally, and over the long term it can actually cause a lot of mental health problems. And now we're all socialising again, there are many people who are struggling with social anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is, to some extent, what it says on the tin. It's fear or anxiety that's caused by social situations. The symptoms can range from mild anxiety, which isn't pleasant but can be managed, to moderate anxiety that requires more structured coping mechanisms, to a constant and overwhelming fear of social situations that borders on a phobia. It's a common problem that usually starts during the teenage years, but it can be triggered by certain events or trauma. The pandemic has been one of those events, and rates of diagnosed social anxiety have risen by 11% with higher rates in areas that have been worse affected. And while for some people social anxiety symptoms might get better as they get older, others need to seek treatment.
How Do You Know If You Have Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety can happen for all sorts of reasons, and it tends to affect each individual a little differently. For some people it means they don't like feeling 'the centre of attention', and affects their relationships with colleagues and peers at work, their participation and ultimately their career growth. Even if they spend all day working with the team, that social aspect out of the office is different enough to trigger anxiety and make them avoid it. For others it means they try to shrink into the background at social events like networking events, and try their best not to make an impact. Some people have ever reported that it impacts their ability to start and maintain new romantic relationships, as the prospect of talking to others and meeting in different settings is too daunting.
But in general, what does social anxiety look like? Well, some common symptoms include:
- Worrying about everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping.
- Avoiding or worrying a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with company and parties.
- Always worrying about doing something you think is embarrassing, such as blushing, sweating or appearing incompetent.
- Finding it difficult to do things when others are watching - you might feel like you're being watched or judged all of the time.
- Fear of being criticised, avoiding eye contact an low self-esteem.
- Constant worry about what other people might think of you.
- Suffer physical symptoms, like feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat.
- Having panic attacks, where you have an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, usually only for a few minutes.
All of which can lead to further anxiety, panic and even depression. This creates a battle inside your mind. Your primitive brain (the amygdala) is triggering your fight or flight responses - producing too much serotonin, adrenaline and cortisol, meaning your body is getting geared up to respond to a perceived threat. But your rational brain knows that there is nothing to fear, there is no threat to run away from. It tells you that you should be enjoying the socialisation, which can cause guilt when you aren't. The conflict between these two parts of your brain causes the feelings of anxiety and all of the symptoms described above.
So the real question is, can social anxiety be treated, and does hypnotherapy work for social anxiety? Well when it comes to matters of the brain, hypnotherapy is a fantastic approach. The theory behind hypnotherapy is to get you into a relaxed, trance-like state that moves your brain waves away from alpha wave and into theta wave activity. In this state you will feel relaxed and calm, but still able to think, visualise images and reflect on different ideas and solutions. While your brain waves are at this level, your hypnotherapist can work with you to retrain your brain, bring it away from those anxious thoughts and build positive thought patterns in their place. By treating social anxiety at it’s root cause, you can take small steps one at a time and build on your successes, allowing you to see more rapid and effective results.
In my practice, I use Solution Focused Hypnotherapy techniques with my clients, as I find this helps them to focus on the present and develop the tools and techniques they need to move forwards in a more positive way. I’ve helped many of my clients overcome social anxiety, allowing them to present confidently, engage in their work more fully and build meaningful connections with friends and family once again. With the help of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, you can also see low self-esteem start to improve, feel calmer, more confident and able to think rationally about situations that used to make you anxious. Long term, hypnotherapy can help you say ‘yes’ to much more, and allow you to really enjoy life free of anxiety!
Remember, anxiety doesn’t have to take over your life. If you’re struggling with anxiety and would like some support, I would love to help. Start by getting in touch to book a free initial chat so that we can explore your situation and decide if hypnotherapy will be right for you, what your personalised treatment plan might look like, and what issues you want to address. Click here to take your first step to a social anxiety free life.
Feel free to book an initial chat or get in touch to ask for advice or ask questions