Everyone is capable of getting nervous when in a socially awkward situation.

And many people worry about giving formal presentations. Some people, however, suffer more than the occasional jitters. People who are socially anxious are excessively fearful that others will criticize their public behavior. They worry that they will appear inarticulate or stupid, or show embarrassing signs that they are anxious or weak. It is this feared disapproval from others that causes their distress.

The socially anxious person seeks ways to avoid this risk whenever possible, feels significant anxiety long before the event, and continues experiencing anxiety and worry throughout the performance. After the event, he analyzes his every move and negatively interprets the response of others, even though the “performance” might have been the simple act of eating a sandwich at a fast food restaurant.

Almost all socially anxious people fear public speaking. The four other top ranking fears are: eating in public, signing one’s name or writing in public, using public bathrooms and being the center of attention.

When facing a feared situation, the socially anxious person experiences many of the same worried thoughts and physical symptoms as those during a panic attack. However certain bodily symptoms — rapid heart rate, trembling voice, shaking hands, sweating and blushing — are more common and can be more distressing because they might be seen by others. Some people, when they become extremely anxious, will feel as if they can’t move their body, like they are frozen in place (called atonic immobility).

More about Social Anxieties and Phobias

  • “I can’t just start talking! He’ll think I’m superficial!”
  • “If I sign my name, I’m sure my hands will shake and everyone will notice!”
  • “I’ll go blank. We’ll just stand there and stare at each other.”
  • “I should be able to make a statement without stumbling over a word!”
  • “I’m so anxious! I know I’m coming across wrong.”
  • “I’ll never meet anyone. I’ll be alone the rest of my life.”

Most people consider the term “performance” to mean some type of formal presentation of our skills or knowledge. The socially anxious person, on the other hand, can define the simplest of social interactions as a performance. Even shaking someone’s hand in a casual setting can lead to performance anxiety and extensive, critical analysis afterwards. Their anxiety can cause them to forget their train of thought, stumble over words, respond to questions with one word answers, or begin laughing at inappropriate moments.

Some people only fear a few situations. Others, suffering from generalized social phobia, dread a broad number of situations where there is some chance of receiving disapproval. The following chart lists the common situations which socially anxious people can dread.

ANXIETY-PROVOKING SOCIAL SITUATIONS

  • Acting, performing, or giving a talk in front of audience
  • Talking to people in authority
  • Expressing opinions
  • Job interview
  • Expressing disagreement
  • Speaking up at a meeting
  • Responding to criticism
  • Giving a report to a group
  • Giving and receiving compliments
  • Eating in public places
  • Asking for a date
  • Drinking in public places
  • Answering personal questions
  • Urinating in a public bathroom
  • Meeting strangers
  • Being the center of attention
  • Calling someone unfamiliar
  • Entering a room when others are already seated
  • Returning goods to a store
  • Going to a party
  • Making eye contact
  • Giving a party
  • Resisting a high-pressure salesperson
  • Joining on-going conversations
  • Making mistakes in front of others
  • Participating in small groups
  • Taking a test
  • Bumping into someone you know
  • Writing while being observed
  • Talking with people you do not know very well
  • Working while being observed
  • Initiating conversation with someone attracted to.

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