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Anxiety can take many forms. From Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), to OCD, to phobias, there are many types of anxiety which we can experience differently. One of these is social anxiety disorder. This is when sufferers feel anxious about speaking with, talking with, or even being around other people. It can come from a fear of being judged by those around them, or it can form a part of general anxiety which may not have any specific triggers or reasons. People suffering from social anxiety disorder may prefer to be by themselves or to stay with those they know and not go into crowded spaces.

It can be overwhelming for the sufferer and symptoms when around people can include:

  • A fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea
  • Breathlessness
  • “Out of body” sensation (you know when it feels like you’re there but not there or dreaming?)

A lot of these symptoms are physical, and people are often surprised to know that mental health disorders can affect you both mentally and physically.

It can affect and hinder people in many aspects of everyday life, from making phone calls to attending doctor’s appointment, to going to Tescos and buying food, and it can also prevent people from being able to find and hold onto work. One of the triggers behind some forms of social anxiety disorder is the fear of being embarrassed and general fear of how people will perceive you. This can be incredibly hard to cope with in the workplace where you need to be assessed on the work you do.

Social anxiety disorder can affect the relationships with your friends and family and can leave you feeling sad and with no self-esteem.

For some, social anxiety could be where leaving the house for days isn’t an option or struggling to interact with people. It can be particularly unnerving when we simply and quickly attribute any symptoms to being shy, overreacting without truly understanding the reason behind why someone may feel or do something with a fear. Sometimes you need to stop, and to take things step by step. So maybe not confront fears or actions relating to those fears (e.g not going out, not speaking up in social interactions) all together. Perhaps start off with having the intention to overcome the fear or action such as maybe stepping out of the house, keeping eye contact with at least one person or speaking a phrase or two to someone in a social situation. This way building yourself up could help, and please do not be afraid to try to get the help needed to find what works for you.

Some treatments for social anxiety disorder are:

  1. cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  2. guided self-help
  3. antidepressant medication

Find what works for you, since we are all different there can be different ways to help oneself. Not everybody can or has to approach something the same way for it to be effective. Share your experiences of social anxiety and let us know what’s worked for you!

Jamilla Hekmoun

Jamilla is a final year undergraduate studying Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and Vice President of the Islamic Society at the University of Exeter. After being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, she is keen on improving the understanding of mental health conditions within Muslim communities. Follow her on Twitter @JamillaTweets.

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