This article will discuss the psychology of anxiety and social anxiety. Social anxiety is a common type of anxiety that people experience. To understand it requires the understanding of the basic concept of anxiety.
When worry becomes more real than a passing thought and gets mixed with fear and a sense of loss of control, a person experiences feelings of anxiety.
The symptoms of anxiety include increased heart-beat, lack of concentration, restlessness, irritability, self-consciousness, nail-biting, and even insomnia.
Lack of concentration makes a person commit silly mistakes in actions and speech because their mind is obsessed with the anxiety and the feelings of self-consciousness that accompany it.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion that your subconscious sends you whenever it finds that you’re unprepared to deal with an immediate or upcoming situation.
The purpose of anxiety is to protect you from this situation you’re likely to mishandle by motivating you to avoid it.
Suppose you were unsure about your public speaking skills and your college professor announced that there’s going to be a presentation next week and everyone will have to participate.
Most likely, you’d start to feel anxious the moment you hear the news and you might try avoiding college on the day of the presentation.
If, however, you were unable to miss college that day, then, under the pressure of anxiety, you may try your best to avoid that particular class in which the presentation is to be given.
If you were unable to do that too then you may come up with excuses not to give the presentation such as saying “I have a sore throat”, “I was ill so I couldn’t prepare” and so on.
As is clear from the above example, the feelings of anxiety were sent to you by your subconscious mind because it believed that you were somehow unprepared- that you lacked public speaking skills.
So it made you anxious because it wanted to drive you away from this situation in which your ‘flaw’ was likely going to be exposed.
It’s because your subconscious is now even more convinced that you lack public speaking skills and that this strategy of pain-avoidance (anxiety) works i.e. it does indeed force you to avoid speaking in public.
The only way to break this vicious cycle is to give the presentation whenever you get a chance, no matter how bad you perform.
Plus, you need to develop the belief that making mistakes is normal, and no one does anything to the best of their abilities in the first attempt.
The more presentations you give, the better you’ll become at it, and a day will come when your subconscious will become confident about your public speaking skills.
Consequently, your anxiety will lessen and lessen until your mind no longer needs it to motivate you to avoid a situation you’ve now mastered.
The model I explained above applies to any type of anxiety related to any life situation. The key is to become more prepared so that your mind finds it unnecessary to protect you by making you anxious.
In other words, find a way to convince your mind that you are prepared.
Perception and social anxiety
Anxiety is not only experienced due to real, life-threatening situations, but also by perceived ones.
For instance, if you fear ghosts, then you might become anxious upon entering a dark room and seeing a ghost-like figure. If you turn on the lights and see that it’s nothing but a coat on a coat-hanger, then your anxiety will disappear and you’ll feel relieved.
Perception sometimes plays a key role in causing social anxiety- the most common type of anxiety that people experience.
Social anxiety is the anxiety experienced in social situations that make a person avoid social situations as much as possible. A person having social anxiety thinks everyone is watching and evaluating him and therefore becomes extremely self-conscious (Take the social anxiety test).
This feeling of self-consciousness is generated by his mind in order to make him extra-careful not to make a mistake so that no unwanted attention towards him (which, in turn, may reveal his ‘flaws’).
Therefore, a person who has social anxiety avoids social gatherings, public speaking opportunities, job interviews, meeting strangers- any situation that may have the potential of exposing his perceived or real flaws.
Note that these flaws may be anything ranging from the lack of social skills to lack of confidence, feelings of inferiority to feelings of insecurity. In these cases, anxiety can only be prevented by fixing these underlying issues or perception errors.
Consider the following example:
Christina always felt anxious around people because she thought she wasn’t pretty. She had this strange feeling that everyone’s eyes were on her whenever she found herself at a public place and that they were laughing at her and making fun of her looks.
Note that it can be a hard task to find the root cause of your anxiety but once you do, getting over it becomes a lot easier.
People may experience social anxiety for a variety of different reasons- some because they believe they’re unpopular, some because they think they’re nerds, and some because they were abused in childhood.
Since Christina knew that the root cause of her anxiety was her self-image issue, one day she decided to challenge this belief and asked herself the following questions:
Am I really ugly? Have I received no compliments for my looks?
Why then do I only focus on the negative comments? Maybe they only came from haters?
Where did I pick up this belief that I am ugly and why do I keep reinforcing it?
All these questions will challenge her previously held belief that she isn’t pretty at all, and eventually she’ll be able to rid herself of this false belief and hence no longer feel anxious around people.
By fixing her self-image, she’ll remove the cause of her anxiety and her anxiety will disappear.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 300+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.