understanding social anxiety

Understanding Social Anxiety 

Social anxiety is more than just feeling a bit shy or nervous in certain situations. It’s a deep-rooted fear of social interactions that can significantly impact one’s daily life.  

For those who experience it, social anxiety can be a daunting challenge, but with the right understanding and tools, it can be managed effectively.  

What is social anxiety? 

Social anxiety, also known as social anxiety disorder, is a mental health condition characterised by an intense fear of being judged, embarrassed, or scrutinised in social situations.  

This excessive self-consciousness or an overwhelming fear or dread of everyday social situations can lead to avoidance behaviours, where people steer clear of social interactions to prevent the distress associated with them. 

People with social anxiety might worry excessively about everyday activities such as: 

  • Going to the shops  
  • Attending social gatherings  
  • Eating or drinking in front of others  
  • Meeting new people 
  • Speaking up in front of people 
  • Introducing themselves to others 

This fear is often disproportionate to the actual situation and can interfere with personal relationships, work, and overall quality of life. 

Social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the UK.  

Research from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that approximately 10-12% of the population will experience social anxiety at some point in their lives.   

Common triggers of social anxiety 

Understanding what triggers social anxiety can help in managing it better.  

Some of the most common triggers are: 

Public speaking 

Attending an interview, delivering a pitch or presentation, or speaking up at a meeting can be particularly nerve-wracking for those with social anxiety. 

Social gatherings 

Parties, networking events, or even the thought of a small gathering can induce significant anxiety. 

Performance situations 

Activities like playing an instrument, acting, or participating in sports where you are performing in front of an audience can trigger anxiety. 

Authority figures 

Interactions with bosses, teachers, doctors, police, or other authority figures can also heighten anxiety levels. 

Impact on daily life  

Social anxiety can have a profound impact on educational attainment and career progression, holding us back from the progress we could otherwise make.  

The condition can also affect personal relationships, making forming and maintaining friendships and romantic relationships challenging. 

According to NHS data, women are more likely to be affected by social anxiety than men, although men are more likely to seek treatment. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a mixed impact on social anxiety. Mental Health Foundation’s reports on COVID-19 and mental health found that while some individuals found relief from social pressures during lockdowns, others experienced heightened anxiety about re-engaging in social activities post-pandemic. 

Recognising the symptoms 

Social anxiety manifests in various ways, both physically and emotionally.  

Common symptoms of social anxiety include: 

  • Intense fear or anxiety in social situations 
  • Sense of dread 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Sweating or trembling 
  • Feeling faint 
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Difficulty speaking or making eye contact  
  • Avoidance of social interactions 

Looking out for these symptoms can help you in understanding social anxiety and how it’s affecting you.

If you recognise these symptoms in yourself or someone else, it’s important to acknowledge them and consider seeking support because life doesn’t need to be this way. 

Managing social anxiety 

There are many practical ways to manage social anxiety, and it often requires a multifaceted approach.  

Here are some effective strategies: 

Exercise and healthy lifestyle  

Regular physical activity can reduce anxiety and improve mood, and maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol can positively impact anxiety levels. 


Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help identify patterns and triggers of anxiety. Try journaling first thing in the morning or last thing at night to reflect on your day. 

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques 

Practising mindfulness, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can help manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. These techniques promote relaxation and a sense of calm. 


In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms. This could include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.  

It’s important to consult with your GP or other healthcare professional to determine the best course of action. 

Social skills training 

Improving social skills through training can enhance confidence in social interactions. This might involve role-playing exercises or practising conversation techniques. 


Gradually exposing oneself to triggering social situations, starting with less intimidating ones, can help reduce anxiety over time. This method allows people to build confidence and learn that their fears are often unfounded. 

Building support networks 

Cultivating a strong support system of friends, family, and mental health professionals can provide crucial assistance for lessening the effects of social anxiety. 


Psychotherapeutic counselling is an effective treatment for social anxiety. It involves working with a trained counsellor to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop more helpful behaviours. 

Breaking free from social anxiety 

Whilst social anxiety is a common condition, it is manageable.  

You can lead a fulfilling life by recognising the symptoms, understanding the triggers, and utilising effective management strategies.  

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and with the right support, overcoming social anxiety is entirely possible.  

If you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to book a counselling session with me for guidance and support so that you can move towards a more confident and socially engaging life, free from the constraints of social anxiety.