Your question: Why do I have crippling social anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

We are social beings. It is necessary that in our daily life we have interactions and social bonds with other people, whether they are known or not. Socialization allows us to create bonds of trust with others and reduce the feeling of loneliness.

However, for many people social interactions can be overwhelming and anxiety generating. If you are reading this, you are probably dealing with crippling and annoying social anxiety, which you feel prevents you from functioning optimally on a daily basis.

Although you may feel alone and misunderstood, social anxiety is a fairly common problem. Approximately 12% of adults experience social anxiety (1), and although it is most common in young people between the ages of 18 and 29, it occurs indiscriminately regardless of age, gender or any other variable.

Social anxiety has several characteristics, but in general it is represented by an intense fear or concern about the judgment or criticism of others. While it is normal to feel anxious or self-conscious in specific social situations, for example when you are introduced to a new group of people or when you have a presentation in front of a class, social anxiety causes people to become paralyzed, feeling a panic that prevents them from doing everyday activities.

It’s not your fault that you feel this way, and besides, there are ways to address social anxiety so that it doesn’t affect your overall quality of life. Changes must be by and for you, and you must first understand the source of your social anxiety before you begin to implement changes.

What does it feel like to have social anxiety?

Social anxiety occurs exclusively in social contexts, such as being in a crowd, on public transportation, when giving a presentation in class or at work, trying to socialize to make new friends, at a job interview, even simple everyday activities such as talking to a cashier at the grocery store.

The symptoms of social anxiety are both physical and emotional, and are generally characterized by the fear of being judged or criticized negatively by others. Other common symptoms are:

  • Muscle tension.
  • Tachycardia and shortness of breath.
  • Anticipation of social activities well in advance, e.g., fear of a college presentation weeks before it occurs.
  • Feeling of extreme embarrassment in social settings.
  • Avoidance of social activities for fear of feeling anxious.
  • Feeling of dizziness.
  • Avoidance of eye contact.
  • Feeling panic when a stranger asks you a question on the street.
  • Difficulty making friends and dating.

Why do you experience social anxiety?

It is necessary to remember that the diagnosis of social anxiety can only be made by a trained professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. There are many reasons why you may be experiencing social anxiety. This is a condition that usually appears in childhood or adolescence and progresses into adulthood because it goes undiagnosed, as many parents think that their children with social anxiety only have a “shy personality”.

If you experienced symptoms of social anxiety during childhood or adolescence, they are likely to persist into adulthood. Other causes of your social anxiety may be:


Scientific research has shown(2) that people with parents who have experienced anxiety problems are 30 to 40% more likely to experience some form of anxiety, including social anxiety.

Traumatic experiences

Experiencing school bullying or violence of any kind at some point in life increases the chances of manifesting social anxiety in the future.

Adaptation to change

Everyday life demands change. When you are going through a period of adjustment, whether you have moved to a new city, gotten a new job or faced a breakup, this can make you more sensitive to social interactions and cause you to experience anxiety in situations that were common for you before the change.

Overprotective parenting

Children who receive a controlling and overprotective parental upbringing are more likely to experience social anxiety in the future, as they doubt their own abilities and expect others to criticize and point fingers at them.

How to deal with social anxiety?

Like any other form of anxiety, social anxiety is rooted in anxious and dysfunctional thoughts that disturb and disrupt your daily performance. These thoughts are not always real, and must be challenged in order to cope with and diminish the feeling of anxiety.

Complementarily, social anxiety should be addressed by a cognitive behavioral therapist, who will provide you with specific strategies to gradually cope with your fear of the judgment of others.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal in which you write down your daily struggles with social anxiety is quite useful, because it allows you to emotionally express your problems in one place, and helps you identify common patterns of your social anxiety.

Every time you feel anxiety in a social situation you will write in your journal: what was happening at that moment (in what situation and time of day it happened), what you thought (if you felt that people in that place would criticize you, for example) and what physical sensations you had (such as tachycardia, muscle tension and shortness of breath).

Question your thoughts

Understanding that your thoughts and emotions are NOT facts can be quite difficult. If you live it and think of it as real it must be real, right? The reality is that social anxiety, and anxiety of any kind, makes you think and feel things that are not in line with reality, and are fueled by your own insecurities.

If, for example, during a work conference you start to feel anxious thinking “I’m going to make a mistake and be made fun of”, you must confront that thought and challenge it by saying “I will prepare for this conference and do the best I can”. In this way, you must question and confront the anxious thoughts you have at social events, reaffirming that the only opinion that matters is your own.

Relaxation and breathing

Anxiety destabilizes your body with annoying symptoms that are difficult to control, but through progressive relaxation and slow breathing you can cope with your anxiety episodes and diminish the symptoms. Whether you are alone or in public, relaxation allows you to relieve these symptoms. Close your eyes and inhale and exhale in 3-second intervals. In the meantime, repeat in your mind key phrases that generate motivation and pride. “You can deal with this situation,” “You have been through this before and have been able to get through it,” “You have the strength to deal with this problem,” to name a few examples.

In my experience…

Social anxiety can become unbearable and impair quality of life, causing people to isolate themselves and avoid contact with others. As much as you may feel that the world criticizes you and speaks negatively about you, the reality is that the worst critic is yourself. You must reinforce your positive qualities to cope with the social interactions that are necessary for your daily functioning, and to do that, you must deal with those pesky thoughts that say false things about you.

You are a capable person, with many positive qualities, who has the determination to improve and cope with the worries generated by social anxiety.

Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. You can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction.

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