Your question: Why does my brother have social anxiety?

My reply:

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

Anxiety is a universal experience. To a greater or lesser extent, we all feel anxiety at various times in our lives. Anxiety is necessary because it triggers an alert in our body, indicating that we must take action to avoid a potential threat. However, when anxiety becomes very intense and recurrent, it causes problems.

There are several types of anxiety, one of the most common is social anxiety, also known as social phobia. This problem is characterized by a persistent avoidance of social situations. People with social anxiety feel excessive embarrassment, fear and worry when they are in social situations, almost always because they are afraid of the judgment or assessment that others make of them (1).

If you are reading this, you are worried about why your brother might have social anxiety. Before I delve into that, I would like to tell you that social anxiety is a fairly common problem, and it is one of the most common types of anxiety in the population. Approximately 12% of adults experience social anxiety (2), 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 causes problems in everyday life and should not be confused with shyness. While social anxiety causes a person to isolate themselves from others and feel intense and uncontrollable panic in social situations such as making a presentation in class or a job interview, a person who is simply shy will be quiet and reserved, but will not suffer intensely when faced with social situations.

To find out whether or not your brother has social anxiety, it is necessary to explore what aspects characterize this type of anxiety. It should be noted that social anxiety can only be diagnosed by a professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, and in some cases, may require the use of medication. I admire your concern for your brother, and I believe that information is the first step in dealing with a problem.

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 does your brother have social anxiety?

Social anxiety can occur for many reasons. On the one hand, research has shown that there are hereditary traits associated with social anxiety (3). However, it is more common to observe that people with social anxiety begin to develop their symptoms from a specific event.

Among the factors that may be causing your sibling’s social anxiety are: history of school bullying, insecurities about his or her identity, overprotective parenting style, attachment problems with parental figures, and experience of violence in past relationships.

How can you help your brother?

Regardless of the cause of your brother’s social anxiety, the approach to his problem should be focused on helping him alleviate his anxiety symptoms and develop social skills that will enable him to cope with his problem. You can be a support and guide him in this process, and at the end of the day, it will be up to your brother to continue to apply these strategies to improve on his own.

Breathing exercises

When a person experiences an anxiety attack their entire body goes out of control. Therefore, breathing exercises that help relieve the feeling of anxiety are useful. You can help your partner practice breathing exercises when he has anxiety by serving as a model for him to imitate.

Ask him first if he wants physical contact. If so, hold his hands. Close your eyes and inhale slowly for 4 seconds, then exhale slowly for 4 seconds. Keep a slow rhythm. Notice that your partner is doing the same. Practicing this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes a day is quite helpful in combating anxiety, and will teach your partner to do it when he or she is on his or her own.

Support them to improve their social skills

People with social anxiety need to confront their fears of negative criticism from others and of social interactions in general. You can be supportive of your brother by encouraging him to develop his social skills in public. One strategy widely used in therapy is for the person with social anxiety to go to a public space such as a shopping mall or supermarket and approach a stranger to initiate a conversation about a specific topic that he or she has practiced in advance at home.

You can help your sibling do this activity by accompanying him to the public place and providing support from a distance. You can even serve as a role model by showing your sibling how to do this activity so that he or she can then do it on his or her own. Throughout this process, be sure to congratulate him on even small accomplishments. For example, he may not be able to carry on a full conversation with a stranger at first, but simply says hello. For a person with social anxiety, that is quite an accomplishment.

Recommend seeking professional help

Although emotionally supporting loved ones is very important to help them combat anxiety, it is not the only strategy and decision to be made. It is necessary for him to attend psychological consultation for his own good, to work through the feeling of anxiety that generates discomfort in his life. By helping him to get an appointment with a psychologist (you can even accompany him on the day of the consultation as a show of support), you are allowing him to take control of his life and learn to regulate his own anxious symptoms.

In my experience…

Social anxiety does not have to define anyone’s life. It is an obstacle, not a hindrance, to positive social relationships. It is necessary for your brother to seek professional help on his own if his social anxiety problem is severe and is causing him emotional problems, but you can help him deal with the discomfort associated with social anxiety through the coping strategies mentioned above.

It is noble to want to help our loved ones cope with the problems they are going through, but in order to do that you need to be fully informed about the problem itself and the tools that exist to help the person. Your brother will be able to cope with social anxiety because he has the ability to do so through his own dedication, your support and the help of professionals

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