Not being able to answer the question even though you know the answer because what if the answer is wrong?
Not able to ask your doubt in front of the whole class and having to walk around with the all the doubts weighing you down.
Not taking up that activity you like because there are too many people already in it and you give up that activity.
Used to being the wallflower and feel more comfortable that way.
Preparing yourself for hours for even the slightest amount of social interaction.
Feeling like you are going for war or something similar when you have to go up for a presentation.
Any of the above situations sound familiar? You ever feel that nervous gut wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have a big presentation or a social setting coming up? If yes, then well, Welcome to the club! Many of us do feel it but very few actually come out and say it out loud. But to actually term it as social anxiety or as an anxiety disorder, it has a bit more implications than the usual stage fear we experience. Social anxiety creates an irrational fear of any kind of social interaction. This anxiety may stem from thoughts like fear of being judged or humiliated. But what is more significant are the consequences, a few of which are feelings of inadequacy, inferiority complex, low self-esteem, depression. The person more often than not tries to cope through avoidance, further giving it power by developing it into an anxiety disorder. All the circumstances we have discussed above are the behavioral manifestations of your anxiety. But there are other physiological manifestations like racing heart, excessive sweating, feeling clammy, trembling, feeling on edge and the butterflies in your stomach (or elephants in this case).
To get more technical in the definition, DSM-V defines social phobia as “marked or intense fear or anxiety of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others and this situation interferes significantly with routines, occupational (academic) functioning, social activities, and relationship.” What many people don’t notice is how common social anxiety is among us. In fact, it is the third largest health care problem. But is not treated as such. They simply ask us to ‘Get over it!’ ‘Overcome your fear!’ Or ‘Suck it up’ Social anxiety is more significant than we think and it is time we acknowledge that. Social anxiety disorder is mostly found to develop during the puberty or pre puberty years, which is to say during the early teenage years. That is when children start feeling conscious of themselves and any anomaly to their growing experience may lead them to develop the social anxiety disorder.
Taking its Toll
This anxiety disorder is shown to be high among students, mostly high school and college, due to the amount of expectations and pressure of the environment around them. To elaborate on that, research proves that most college students suffer from social anxiety disorder because of their endeavor for perfection in their outcomes. There are a multitude of implications of social phobia amongst students. Students are recorded to have dropped due to their anxiety disorder. It has also effected the academic and professional lives of countless people suffering from it. This anxiousness has also often led to low achievement levels in their work. Like something as simple as a poor presentation due to social anxiety disorder may leave the student with feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, having lasting psychological effects.
More severe manifestations of social anxiety among students are depression, alcohol and drug dependence. Statistics proves that 20% of the depression cases were a manifestation of social anxiety, 17% of alcohol and drug dependence due to social anxiety disorder as well.
Let us now talk about the courage of all those students who go to their schools or colleges while coping with social phobia. Brave, Bold, Courageous etc are not what we think of when we see a socially anxious person. But that is what they are. Even more so than a person not suffering from the anxiety disorder. A person with social anxiety disorder had to work extra hard, go that extra mile to make that presentation and had to strain and drain themselves completely of energy to muster up enough courage to go up in front of all those people. You are more courageous than the society gives you credit and are braver than most of the society itself and should be an inspiration. You are fighting against this invisible shield of anxiousness while trying your best to not let it show in fear of judgement and yet pulling it off. It is no ordinary feat and yet you have been doing it so well all these years. Sure, you might have had a few setbacks here and there, but you inspired us again by getting up and moving forward.
Teachers, the stepping stones once again
Now it is no doubt that the teachers will have a huge impact on those students who go to school with social anxiety disorder. What can teachers do better to try to make the students more comfortable? The first step, as cliché as it may seem, is to create an environment as supportive as possible. They can conduct a variety of activities which aim at trying to normalize social anxiety as a phenomenon and help in building the self-esteem and confidence of students with social phobia. These activities may be more constructive if conducted in smaller groups to put the students more at ease and help them feel relaxed. The way of presentations for class activities also need to change to help the students. The students feel anxious for presentation and thus the mode of the presentations need to be altered slightly to help accommodate the students with anxiety disorder. Peers are just as important as the teachers in such settings, of not more. So the teachers can create a seating arrangement to acclimate the socially anxious students with their peers. Their peers can then help them a lot more during the presentations and other activities. One approach to this is to talk to the socially anxious students openly about their anxiety disorder. Talking in hushed tones behind their backs as if it is a taboo is not going to help anyone. Having a sincere and candid conversation together will get you much further.
To enable all this, the teacher might be required to consult with a professional counsellor to make them more effective. Together, the counsellor and teacher can create an environment that will help the students with their social anxiety disorder.
Fighting the battle!
Now comes the final quest of the anxiety disorder, what YOU can do to overcome the phobia. Before we go into details, let me just say that no person is ever the same so what works for one person might not work for another and that is perfectly fine. Whatever is mentioned here may not work for you at all and that is fine as well, you just need to find that one technique which works for you. But what actually might be the cause of your social anxiety? The big old Nature vs. Nurture debate comes into play here. Research proves that both environment and genes have a hand in developing the anxiety disorder. But more important are the reasons or triggers due to which the anxiety is being perpetuated. To overcome the social phobia, it is better to focus on the triggers and trying to curb them. And going to professional for counselling is always advised for social anxiety disorder. Techniques have been developed to treat social anxiety which have been proven to be very effective. One method focused on is the CBT. The Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which essentially involves changing the way you react (think, feel, act) in various social situations. It involves an ongoing assessment at different levels. There are other simpler at-home techniques you can try out by yourself. One of which is to create a flowchart for yourself. List out your fears, what scares you, who scares you, and why you are scared of that particular circumstance. Though your reasons for the fear may seem irrational, just list them out, they help make sense in the long run. Another useful approach is to maintain a record of the daily situations in which you feel extremely anxious. Keep track of them over a period of time until you have enough data to draw feasible conclusions. Using this information, you get a better understanding of the working of your anxiety disorder, your most stressful situations, mildly stressful situations and you can now come up with solutions that you think will work in each situation separately. Most important is to distinguish your coping behavior. Your coping mechanisms may unknowingly be the reason for the perpetuations of your anxiety. Identify them and see if they are actually working for you in eliminating the anxiety or are just helping you get short term relief. Adjust your coping techniques accordingly.
Know you are not alone in this. If you started a socially anxious club or alliance in your school or college, you will be surprised at the number of people who show up. Just like you are struggling with your inner anxiety, people around you are battling theirs. Maybe we can come together and help each other stay strong and pick the other up during a moment of weakness.
A poem by a fellow socially anxious person, Meloesjuh