You probably know someone who would rather not go to parties or gatherings and just prefers to be alone. Perhaps you are that person? But what happens when engaging in social events becomes a source of crippling terror, restricting your life and ability to enjoy things?

Imagine you’re terrified of heights, would rather do anything than go in a lift, couldn’t think of anything worse than looking down when taking off in a plane… and then someone kindly, politely, even irritably asks why you can’t just do that skydive? After all, it won’t last long. Everyone else is doing it and it’ll be fun!

How would you feel?

Well, that right there is how those with social anxiety feel about being in gatherings, speaking in meetings, and bumping into people they know in the street.

Endless social engagements that feel so minor to you are threatening and utterly terrifying to those with social anxiety. 

Social anxiety is classed as an anxiety disorder, meaning the main basis is fear: Fear of negative evaluation from others, a true belief they are unable to function socially and that others can see their anxiety and are judging them negatively for it.

Social anxiety can greatly debilitate a person. Things like work, school and being around people can be really difficult, leading to social isolation and a decline in mood. 

So what can you do to help?

Well first, try to understand that it isn’t just shyness or overthinking on their part. It’s actually not do-able at that moment and, trust me, they feel your pressure. Even if the pressure is out of love, it isn’t going to help.

So here are some tips to do your absolute best to be there for that person. 

  1. Listen – If they want to talk to you about their feelings and they can, this will be hugely helpful as it is for all of us. Having someone willing to understand our experience is one of the most precious gifts we can receive. 
  2. Ask what will help them for each of the time points – Before, during and after the event can involve different worries. Many worse case scenarios can be playing out in their minds. At what point these occur differs between people. Plan what they/you can do at those times such as distraction via music, a chat, or a walk.
  3. Help change focus – One of the main things that those with social anxiety report is that in the moment of social interaction they can be analyzing their own performance and negatively judging themselves, which understandably increases anxiety. If you can, ask how best to keep them focused on the event and what is happening around them, rather than the internal criticism. This could be talking about something they enjoy and feel relaxed about.
  4. Remind them why they’re great and you love them! People with social anxiety can be very hard on themselves, just giving positive feedback can be really comforting.
  5. Offer to go with them to a GP appointment – Many clients I have worked with using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have found it helps, CBT can be accessed through the GP.

It can be tough knowing what to do, when to offer to help and when to leave someone to go through their process. The fact you are reading this is wonderful and they are lucky to have you!

We all have our own battles. Let’s try to understand and empathize – and each time you feel frustrated, remember your worst fear… and that someone is asking you to just do it

People can get their lives back, build confidence and get past their social anxiety – but it takes time and a lot of support.

So let’s do our best to support them. 

Article written by Megan Prowse, Clinical Psychologist in training & Accredited CBT therapist.
Instagram: @citypsychchick