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SOCIAL ANXIETY

Feeling nervous is a natural part of life. Almost everyone gets nervous sometimes. Especially in situations where we are faced with an unexpected challenge, nervousness is a very common reaction. Interaction situations also cause nervousness for many people. ‘Social anxiety’ refers to nervousness and anxiety that occurs in interactions, causing significant functional impairment and individual suffering.

For some, anxiety and fear are mostly related to specific situations, such as performing or eating. For others, anxiety is more widespread and occurs in social situations with strangers and also with people they know.

Around one-fifth of the adult population experiences social anxiety at some point in their lives. On the other hand, fear of social situations causes a significant disruption to daily life for five per cent of the population. Around one-third of university students finds social situations, such as performing, problematic because of anxiety.

EVERYONE GETS NERVOUS IN THEIR OWN WAY

Social anxiety is usually associated with fear of being criticised by others, of embarrassment, and of being rejected. These experiences are difficult and contribute to obstacles to studies, relationships, and mental wellbeing.

Nervousness is also individual. Different people find different social situations uncomfortable. For example, one person is nervous about meeting strangers, another about giving a presentation, and a third about working in a group.

Nervousness is felt both in the body and the mind: flushing, pulse racing, voice trembling, and thoughts racing. Our attitude towards these sensations has an essential influence on whether the excitement increases or decreases.

If we interpret these feelings as threatening and shameful, it is likely that the nervousness we experience will increase. Instead, a gentle and compassionate approach towards these feelings will reduce our experience of nervousness.

REASONS BEHIND SOCIAL ANXIETY

Fear of social situations is influenced by both individual and environmental factors. It is estimated that about one-third of social anxiety is genetically determined, i.e. dependent on a person’s innate temperament.

Environmental factors also contribute to one’s fear of social situations. Harsh, controlling parenting styles, learned behaviours, or traumatic experiences such as bullying may contribute to the development of social anxiety.