Symptoms of social anxiety: Why is my body doing this?

symptoms of social anxiety


Question

"Why is it when I'm in a new situation my body reacts by getting shaky and I feel on edge and physically sick, yet in my brain I know it's not a big deal? Like the other day I was going to an acquaintance's business to talk to them about doing some casual work there. There was no pressure, it wasn't an interview, and I was looking forward to it. Yet my body reacted like I was about to walk into the middle of a battlefield. I kept thinking to myself What the hell?! Everything is fine, stop freaking out. I tried doing deep, relaxing breaths...nothing seemed to work. Any insights are appreciated. And is what I described pretty common/normal?"

Answer

Yea, it's really confusing why that's happening. Like what the heck, why is my anxiety so high in this situation?

You may want to check out this course with animations that shows exactly why that happens. This cheat sheet and free mini-anxiety course also explains what's happening but in less detail.

Here is what's happening - see the video snippet from the course below. The course uses public speaking as an example, but the principles apply to any social or speaking situation (conversations, meeting people, dating, business meetings, interviews, speeches, etc.).

The core fear in social anxiety is fear of negative judgment.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans beings need friends and community for survival. When you think you may be disliked or rejected by others, the fear center in your brain (the amygdala) interprets this as danger and tells your nervous system to release adrenaline and other chemicals. These chemicals help us physically run and fight the danger. But wait a minute...this is not a physical danger so why are we getting all of these chemicals that help with running and fighting? High levels of those chemicals in social situations are exactly what we don't need. Those chemicals produce confusing symptoms that can start a whole chain reaction of shame (something is wrong with me), lack of confidence, confusion, and feeling out of control which understandably can lead to panic attacks, worry and anticipatory anxiety, rumination, feeling hopeless or depressed, and so on. Symptoms include difficulty concentrating, mind going blank, sweating, painful self-awareness, heart beating faster and more listed here. The intense symptoms make those situations even harder which creates more fear...so the cycle is self-perpetuating. When you have intense symptoms in a social situation, your amygdala is setting off false alarms telling you the situation is dangerous when it's really not. This is the trick that the fear center in your brain (the amygdala) has played on you. The simple fact is, you have to learn how to manage this primitive alarm system (the amygdala). 

Fear is a paradox. It's not intuitive. The more you fight the symptoms, the more intense your symptoms will become. To overcome social anxiety, you have to do the opposite of your natural inclination. No wonder so many people get caught for years and decades. To overcome social anxiety, you have to understand fear and how to get out of this self-perpetuating trap (symptoms = decreased confidence = poor self-image= more intense symptoms).

The course explains how to step in and when to step in to stop that self-perpetuating trap. 

To answer the second part of your question: Are my symptoms common and normal? Intense symptoms are common for someone with elevated anxiety levels. Your symptoms mean that your nervous system is working perfectly (as it as designed to work). It's just that the primitive part of your brain (the amygdala) is interpreting that situation as dangerous when it's not really dangerous. So your brain is setting off false alarms and tricking you. See the next blog on fear levels. Sounds like you were in the medium-to-high fear level, and the symptoms you described are common once you get into that fear level. Desensitization training can help to retrain your primitive alarm system.

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