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Social anxiety


Everyone experiences anxiety now and then – it's a normal feeling of nervousness caused by worrying about something in the future. But the feeling is temporary and passes.

But anxiety disorders are different. They involve an intense feeling of distress, triggered by certain situations, that doesn’t easily pass. You might feel like your thoughts are out of control, and this may result in physical symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, a racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking or feeling sick in the stomach.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you might feel like you can’t live your normal life and it can make everyday activities very stressful.

There are many types of anxiety disorders, but a common one is social anxiety, a feeling of intense anxiety in social situations due to fear of embarrassment or judgment by others. It may lead you to struggle with or avoid situations which involve other people, such as attending or talking in class, going to parties, being the centre of attention or meeting new people.

It's more than just being shy. You will suffer from spiralling negative thoughts that are unrealistic, constantly second guess social situations and develop an intense preoccupation with people judging you.

What to do

Because social anxiety begins with a pattern of negative thoughts, you can learn a simple technique to break this cycle – acknowledging your negative thoughts and then interrupting them with more positive ones. Headspace has a helpful, interactive tool that demonstrates how to do this.

Some other practical strategies are:

  • taking deep, conscious breaths to calm your body using an app like Breath2Relax
  • moving your body in a relaxed, joyful way (walking or yoga for example): exercise creates endorphins that will make you feel happier
  • doing a guided meditation using an app like Smiling Mind

It's also important to be conscious of your use of drugs and alcohol: these things might seem to help in the short term, but can make you feel much worse in the longer term.

Don’t forget, you may be tempted to avoid certain situations because you feel anxious, but in the case of social anxiety, the more you avoid the things that make you anxious, the worse the anxiety will get. Similarly, the energy needed to deal with the consequences of the avoidance (like failing a unit) can sometimes be greater than the energy needed to confront the challenging situation itself.

Getting support

If you are struggling with social anxiety and find it is affecting your ability to live and study with confidence, make an appointment to chat with our Counselling and Psychological Support team. You can book your free appointment online, and you can attend in-person, over the phone or via Zoom.

More help and advice

You can read more about social anxiety on the Beyond Blue website, including some personal stories from young people overcoming their social anxiety.

Headspace has more information about the different types of anxiety disorders, the symptoms of panic attacks, and strategies for managing your anxiety.

Our podcast on managing social anxiety outlines some practical strategies for coping with spiraling negative thoughts.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia – this interesting article unpacks why, what factors influence the condition, and how young people are coping.

If you need to speak to someone right now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online through their website.

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