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You deserve to live well, without the burden of social anxiety.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?

Social anxiety is an intense fear of social situations where one may be scrutinized, evaluated, or judged by others, causing significant distress and impaired ability to function in daily life. 

Individuals with social anxiety worry about being embarrassed, humiliated, or rejected by others, leading to avoidance of social interactions and activities. The fear can be so intense that a person feels it is beyond their control. It can severely impact relationships, work, and overall well-being.

Social anxiety is quite common and affects about 1 in 16 guys.[1,2] Social anxiety can affect us at any point throughout our lives, but is most common for adults between the ages of 18-29 years old.[2]

SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY INCLUDE

  • Feeling self-conscious or fearing that people will judge you negatively
  • Fear that you’ll act in ways that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
  • Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Feeling awkward around others
  • Being easily embarrassed 
    • Feeling one’s “mind going blank” or feeling sick to one’s stomach when around others
  • Avoiding places where there are other people
  • Experiencing increased heart rate, stomach pains, or tenseness in one’s body when around others
  • Panic attacks (very intense periods of overwhelming fear where your heart is racing, you feel the world is caving in, and like you’re going to die)

* Note, symptoms of social anxiety need to be present for at least six months before they can be diagnosed by a mental health professional.

EXAMPLES OF THOUGHTS A MAN WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY MAY HAVE

  • “I always freeze up when meeting new people. I won’t have anything to say. I’ll seem boring. I know I’ll end up looking like a fool.” 
  • “I always stumble over my words during work presentations, no matter how long or how many times I prepare. My voice will start shaking and I’ll humiliate myself. My boss is going to think I’m an idiot. I’m going to lose my job because of this.” 
  • “No one else is wearing a coloured tie, everyone is going to be looking at me. People will think I’m stupid. I knew I shouldn’t have come. I don’t fit in anywhere.”

Not surprisingly, these kinds of symptoms and thoughts create problems in our work, social, educational, and/or family settings. 

ISN’T SOCIAL ANXIETY JUST BEING SHY?

Not quite. When you feel shy, you’re likely to still be able to be present in social settings and tolerate your discomfort. On the other hand, with social anxiety, you are more likely to view social settings as things to avoid, dread, or endure – as they almost always cause intense symptoms like those listed above. 

For example, if you are frequently worrying about an upcoming social event for days or even weeks leading up to it, that’s more indicative of social anxiety than simply being shy. You may notice your heart beating faster each time you think of the event, find yourself ruminating about what you will say to others, and how you will act, and/or you may experience panic attacks related to these thoughts.

STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME SOCIAL ANXIETY

While symptoms of social anxiety can be stubborn and at times overwhelming, social anxiety can be managed and treated.

TRY USING SELF-HELP RESOURCES

There are a variety of self-help books, podcasts, and workbooks you can find online to begin to make changes in the way we think about or approach a social situation and setting goals to engage in social situations.

Here are some resources to consider: 

Self-help books

Podcasts 

  • Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris: a podcast exploring happiness from different perspectives. Also provides a focus on social anxiety, meditation, and relationships. 
  • Social Anxiety Solutions – your journey to social confidence: Host Sebastiaan van der Schrier shares his journey of working through social anxiety. 
  • The Social Anxiety Society: A podcast from a psychologist with social anxiety who provides ideas and suggestions about managing social anxiety.
  • The Social Ninjas: A podcast exploring two men’s journeys of struggling and overcoming social anxiety.

Workbooks

TRY PSYCHOTHERAPY

If you find yourself hitting a wall when trying to manage social anxiety on your own, working with a psychotherapist can be life-changing. 

Many men have been socially conditioned to not ask for help or have been told that they are “weak” if they can’t sort out challenges on their own. Seeking therapy is similar to going to the doctor for a broken bone or to a dentist for a filling. Seeking expert services to help us live well is simply the logical thing to do.

Psychotherapy (known more simply as talk therapy) is an excellent way to learn more about yourself, what your social anxiety is rooted in, and strategies for adaptively engaging in social situations. 

Therapists provide expert, non-judgmental advice, support, and guidance, so you can feel safe and confident in sharing your experiences without being judged. 

You don’t have to commit to therapy for the rest of your life. Instead, think of it as a short-term (e.g., 3-12 months) investment to address long-term habits and behaviours. The length of therapy depends on how entrenched the issues are that you’re dealing with, as well as how much work you are able to put into addressing them. Don’t shy away from the hard work of therapy – your life will change for the better and your future self will thank you for it.

Finding the right professional

Finding the right therapist for you can be a bit of a process, but one well worth exploring. Sometimes it takes 3-4 therapists before you find the right one and can really start diving into issues and making life-long improvements. 

Research has shown that no matter who you choose, the “fit” or connection you have with the therapist is the biggest factor that affects the efficacy of therapy.[3] This means that if you aren’t jiving or working well with your clinician, try finding someone else that may be a better fit. 

More information on what talk therapy is, how to make the most of it, and how to find a therapist near you. 

LOOK FOR SUPPORT GROUPS


Don’t want to go at it alone? Support groups are another excellent way to connect with other men who are experiencing similar social fears. Support groups are accessible online or in-person and may be run by a therapist (therapy group) or community member (peer support group). 

It can be a challenge to find support groups, so try reaching out to community agencies in your area, ask a mental health professional, or search online for options. 

More info on and how to find a men’s support group.

CONSIDER MEDICATION

Sometimes the symptoms of social anxiety can be so severe that it interferes greatly with our ability to function in life, making it difficult to complete even the most basic tasks to look after ourselves. In such instances, medications may be of specific benefit. 

If medication is an option that you are open to, check in with your family doctor (or ideally, a psychiatrist, for whom you need a referral from your family doctor) about the appropriateness of medication for you.

Although there can be side effects, medication can be effective in managing the symptoms of social anxiety. Moreover, it can help get you to a place where you’re better able to engage in psychotherapy to learn more about your social anxiety and develop skills to overcome it. 

If you are experiencing overwhelming worries about and challenges in social settings, you are not alone. Many guys have gone through and overcome similar issues. Don’t accept social anxiety as “just something that I deal with” or “something that’s always been there”. You deserve to live well, without the burden of social anxiety. Reach out to a mental health professional to get started on your path to living your best life.


About Dr. Stucki

Dr. Stucki is a licensed marriage and family therapist based out of Provo, Utah. Dr. Stucki offers therapy services to adults in Utah, Texas, and Virginia to improve their lives through treating anxiety, depression, life transitions, trauma, and PTSD through in-person (Utah) and online services (Utah, Texas, and Virginia).


References:

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Any anxiety disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-c). Social anxiety disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder
  3. Wampold, B. E. (2015). How important are the common factors in psychotherapy? An update. World Psychiatry, 14(3), 270-277. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20238

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