How to recognise social anxiety – do I have It?

Feeling nerves is human. Whether it's a new date, a presentation at work or small talk with strangers you meet at a party. We breathe, we perspire, we go through the motions.


Social interactions can cause a flutter of nerves. But if left unchecked they can evolve into a tangled web of anxiety, self-doubt, and a relentless fear of judgement. 

Social anxiety. This condition used to be called social phobia. Understanding it is the first step to getting rid of the paralysing impact it can have on our lives.

From everyday jitters to social anxiety disorder

80-85% of adults say they're ‘privately shy’. They don't reveal their shyness – and the tension this can cause – to the external world.

So if you feel shy sometimes: you're not alone.

We all experience an emotional charge in social situations. We have options on what to do with this charge. We can, for example, let the emotion pass and move through it. Or we can retreat into it, saying we're introverted or reserved.

Occasionally, social interactions can bring on intense emotions. That's when we cross the threshold into the realm of social anxiety. Fear and doubt do not go away and affect your quality of life.

Around 22% of UK university students say they experience some social anxiety. About 12% of adults live with social anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. This can affect both men and women but tends to be more common among women.

Social anxiety disorder can severely disrupt our everyday activities, relationships, confidence, work or school.

For example, we avoid:

  • going for a better or more fulfilling job because we can’t face the interview
  • the promotion at work because the prospect of holding team meetings daunts us
  • social get-togethers because there will be folks we haven't seen in ages
  • asking our crush out on a date

Those with social anxiety disorder tend to self-medicate with emotional eating, alcohol or drugs. This helps them cope with their anxiety but leads to more complex issues and substance abuse.

Still, only half of those experiencing social anxiety seek treatment. Unfortunately this often only happens after living with this disorder for 15 to 20 years.

That’s why it’s key to treat social anxiety disorder and getting people the help they need.

Symptoms of social anxiety

1. You might feel these emotions when confronted with certain social situations:

  • envious and feeling less than
  • worrying about embarrassing yourself
  • tense when chatting to strangers
  • embarrassed because others might be looking at you
  • anxious about coming across as anxious
  • stressed about eating in front of others
  • disappointed because you ‘can’t be like the others’
  • regret at not speaking up
  • sad because you feel left out
  • resentful because others 'have it easy'
  • isolated because no one is speaking to you
  • fearful of being negatively judged and criticised
  • shame because can't be ‘perfect’
  • annoyance at your social skills
  • etc.

2. Your behaviour might include:

  • avoiding social situations or meeting new people
  • reluctance to take part in public events
  • resistance to speaking in public
  • hesitation to engage with authority figures
  • avoidance of using your phone in public
  • fear of interacting with strangers or acquaintances
  • avoiding eye contact
  • excessive use of electronic devices for comfort
  • shielding with headphones, hats or sunglasses
  • overthinking past social interactions
  • anxiety about future social encounters
  • insecure body language
  • procrastination on nerve-inducing tasks
  • reluctance to disagree or assert yourself
  • avoiding small talk and introductions
  • delayed response to calls and messages
  • refraining from attending events or meetings
  • lurking on social media
  • etc.

3. Physically, you might notice these symptoms:

  • blushing, sweating
  • racing heartbeat
  • trembling
  • upset stomach
  • digestive tract issues
  • breathing troubles
  • dizziness
  • muscle tension
  • tripping over words
  • mind going blank
  • etc.

How your physical sensations increase social anxiety

Physical symptoms can shake you – fuelling your nerves even more. Amped-up nerves in turn trigger stronger physical symptoms. This cycle feeds on itself and can ultimately spiral into panic attacks.

The yo-yo pattern of avoidance and relief

Trying to avoid situations that trigger fear and anxiety might seem like a quick fix in the short term. People with social anxiety can feel intense relief from opting out of nerve-wracking situations. The feeling is so good for them, it's highly reinforcing.  

You avoid the triggering activity and might be saying to yourself

  • 'Phew. I'm glad I blanked [someone you admire]. Don't have to compare myself and face my flaws now.'
  • 'Phew. Got out of this invite. Don't need to worry about them judging me now.'
  • 'Phew! I'm relieved my crush didn't catch on to how much I like them.'

Caving into your anxiety feels warm and fuzzy initially, but it makes your anxiety worse in the long term. It creates a rollercoaster ride of avoidance and relief which is emotionally exhausting over time.

This is because facing certain ‘scary’ situations can help you grow as a person. So you might feel disappointment for avoiding situations that could help you live life more fully. This disappointment could spiral into regret and self-loathing if the situation isn't tackled over the years.

The stories we tell ourselves

As we avoid a situation again and again our internal dialogue can swing from relief to shame. You might be thinking to yourself:

Relief: 'Phew, I dodged a bullet. I'm glad I don't have to face [that situation] right now.'
Safety: 'I feel safer now that I'm not [in that potentially stressful social situation].'
Justification: 'It's okay, I had a good reason to avoid it. I'm protecting myself from overwhelm.'
Frustration: 'Why do I always do this? I should be able to handle it, but I just can't.'
Guilt: 'I know I should’ve faced it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm letting myself down…'
Self-criticism: 'I'm such a failure. Why can't I be like everyone else and just handle it?'
Insecurity:'What will others think of me for avoiding this? They’re gonna judge me…'
Doom:'Will [this avoidance] make things worse in the long run? I think I might be feeding a monster.’
Shame: 'I don’t have what it takes to reach my goals'

Building confidence 1-0-1

We say we take time out to work on our issues. But you know, you can't build confidence inside a cocoon. You don't emerge with confidence one day. It grows every time you face your fears.

If you don’t face your anxiety you'll never discover that the situations you fear are actually manageable. 

Treatment for social anxiety disorder

The NHS recommends cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as one of the main options for treatment. The theory is simple: embrace your fear.

What you want to do is enter the trigger situation and hang in there. Here's a secret. The high anxiety won’t keep rising through the roof. Stay with it and notice how you adjust. 

Let the fear go through you and let it taper off slowly. You can do this (and yes, I can support you get through this). Once the anxiety wanes the learning will happen:

  1. Your worst nightmare hasn’t come true.
  2. You got this. You can handle any social interactions.
  3. Your initial anxiety decreases the more you expose yourself to the situation.

Are we cool? Okay. Off you go!

When this ‘just do it’ approach isn’t cutting it 

'Pulling yourself together' doesn't work in all situations. This is where hypnotherapy comes in.

Hypnotherapists have lots of tools to help you cope with fear-inducing situations. They help you find out what's triggering your social anxiety and what's keeping you stuck. 

A hypnotherapist will take you through the feared situation in the comfort of the therapeutic space. They firmly support you in embedding new confident beliefs. This equips you with a strong mindset to act in the real world.

A study found that ‘the addition of hypnosis substantially enhanced treatment outcome’ of cognitive behavioural therapy.

This is what I can do for you. I help clients overcome social anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about how we can work together, do get in touch by clicking the ‘email me’ button below.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, N1
Written by Gwendi Klisa, DipCBH, MNCH(Reg), Anxiety, Emotional Eating, Confidence
London, Greater London, N1

Get out of your head and fully believe in yourself and your abilities. Overcome fears and obstacles. With Gwen's guidance you'll rewire limiting beliefs caused by past programming and childhood conditioning. Her results-focused approach melts away resistance to change and reverses unhealthy habits into confidence and momentum. Enquire today

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