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Dealing with Fear

Social Anxieties

©iStockphoto.com/Mikael Damkier

Do you get butterflies in your stomach before speaking to a group? Would you feel intimidated walking into a room filled with strangers? If so, you're not alone. Social anxieties – fears of situations in which others are likely to judge you – are extremely common. The fear of public speaking alone affects 30-50 percent of Americans.

Although stepping up to a podium may seem nothing like being eyed by a hungry lion, both types of fear get the same bodily response going. Scientists believe our social fears might actually be related to a concern for survival. Since groups help us stay alive, we may fear situations that could lead to our exclusion.

People with significant social anxieties often describe themselves in one or more of the following ways:

  • Overwhelmingly concerned with the way others will judge them.
  • Nervous when speaking to authority figures.
  • Scared to speak in front of others or to interact in groups.
  • Afraid of strangers.
  • Concerned they'll noticeably blush, sweat or shake in front of others.
  • Uncomfortable asserting themselves.
  • Extremely self-conscious when others look at them.

Tips for Coping

©Steve Skjold/Alamy

There are a number of positive steps you can take to begin working through any social anxiety. Professional treatment is often helpful for those who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia – a potentially serious condition in which the fear of social situations interferes with everyday life.

Here are some tips for coping with less severe anxieties:

Relax

When your anxiety starts to build, take a few minutes to calm down with some relaxation exercises. Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful scene. Try flexing and then relaxing the muscles in your arms and legs as you take deep breaths from your abdomen.

Prepare

If there's something you need to do to prepare for an upcoming social situation, make sure you're ready. If you're worried about delivering a speech, spend plenty of time practicing. If you're anxious about meeting new people, think of a few conversation starters ahead of time.

Seek exposure

Always avoiding social situations will only deepen your fear, but jumping into a feared situation can be overwhelming. Try easing into social settings by taking a series of small steps. For example, if you're scared by large groups of strangers, you might attend a few parties where you know several people before tackling a party full of strangers.

Fight distorted perceptions

Many people with social anxieties have unrealistic views of themselves and the importance of their interactions. You might ask a trusted friend how you actually performed. Also try asking yourself, realistically, how likley it is that those around you will pay attention to any little mistakes you make.

PLEASE NOTE: The information presented on this site should not be used as a substitute for consultation with a healthcare professional.