Social phobia is the constant and persistent fear experienced by someone exposed in a social environment or situation. That fear is dominantly the fear of humiliation or non-recognition/acceptance when the person expresses themselves or interacts socially.
For example, a schoolboy who avoids raising his hand and participating in the class, an interviewee who keeps trembling in every interview, a person that fears the possibility to be left alone in the middle of a party, an employee who avoids to cross the office to feed the printer with paper because she does not want to be seen by her colleagues, or someone who constantly avoids to look other people in the eyes, might suffer from social phobia.
The symptoms of social phobia may vary from sweating, blushing, dizziness, coughing – even vomiting, lack of concentration, confusion, inadequacy of expression and reasoning (mind going blank) in the short term, to stress, depression, desperation and isolation in the long term.
Social phobia is viewed by some as a natural condition that occurs more or less to everyone and thus, it should not be considered as a disorder. On the contrary, behavioural science regards social phobia as a condition that could harm severely and deeply people’s ability to interact socially, develop themselves and enjoy life.
Tips to help deal with social phobia at the very moment it occurs.
Step back for a moment: you do not have to suffer the consequences and the embarrassment of a panic attack, despite the fact that exposure generally helps in the long term. However, strong negative experiences can be de-motivating and energy consuming. So, excuse yourself and take some time to relax and then return to the scene of action; do not run away. Do not push yourself to overcome the situation right here and right now.
Remember: a social phobia episode does not last forever. It usually takes 20- 30 minutes to consume all its “fuel”. You can take advantage of that time to avoid immediate exposure. Many people after this, experience a feeling of relaxation and euphoria and even a mood to socialise.
Breathe deeply and gradually slowing down.
Try drinking some water, eating something or even drinking a little alcohol.
Find someone to talk to, to accompany you, or even share with your discomfort. One of social phobia’s main fears is the revelation of a problem of yours of social nature. When that fear disappears, though painful, it leaves you with a feeling of relief.
Remember: other people do not know how you are feeling. That means that they do not realise your discomfort, nor do they share all the thoughts of humiliation you experience. So, relax and be bold!
Pauses during communication can create embarrassment. Try using open ended questions such as: “How do you…” . “Tell me more about…” What do you think about…”
Do not be too harsh with yourself. Everyone has their moments of embarrassment.
When you leave a social situation that treated you with disappointment, do not feel defeated. Every moment of ‘wear’ brings you closer to your win.
In a future post there will be some tips on how to prevent and eliminate social phobia in the long term.
painting by Jessica Derleth