Social anxiety can be described as an excessive and persistent fear of what other people think of you. It often involves the following:

• Fear of being judged, criticised, or thought badly of by other people.
• Being afraid of doing something stupid, awkward, or embarrassing in front of others.
• A general sense of nervousness, self-consciousness, or anxiety around people, especially those you don’t know.
• A tendency to avoid social situations and gatherings.
• Intense worry about social interactions and their consequences in the future as well as rumination on past interactions.
• Constant fear that other people will notice that you are nervous or anxious.

Most importantly, you can have social anxiety without a full-blown diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, which is when your social anxiety significantly gets in the way of your ability to function in everyday life. Social anxiety is more than the occasional bout of nervousness or discomfort in social situations. Everybody gets anxious about what other people think of them occasionally. But social anxiety is a persistent and intense pattern of fear that shows up in many areas of life.

Common Examples of Social Anxiety

Not being present in conversations because you’re lost in worries.
One of the most common ways I hear social anxiety described is that it makes it difficult to be truly present in conversations. For example, you’re in an important meeting with a potential client, and try as you might to stay focused on what they’re saying, you repeatedly find yourself distracted by a swarm of worries like:

She thinks I’m not intelligent enough!
I’m getting way too anxious… How could she trust me with her business if I can’t even control myself?!

Unfortunately, even if your worries aren’t true, they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: All the time and attention you’re giving your worries means you have less mental energy and resources to spend thinking about and contributing to the actual conversation. And the more you feel like you’re not contributing to the conversation, the more anxious you get to the point where you actually do start making mistakes or having trouble articulating your thoughts because your mind is so consumed with anxiety and worry now.

Struggles with intimacy or commitment in friendships or romantic relationships
Heightened anxiety is essentially your body going into fight or flight mode because it thinks you are in danger. So, if your body is working extra hard to protect you and keep you safe, it makes sense that you would find it extra hard to be vulnerable and open up with other people.

But all healthy relationships—especially romantic relationships—are built on intimacy (and emotional intimacy in particular). So, if you aren’t able to be vulnerable, it severely limits your ability to grow and deepen your relationships, which eventually can lead to conflict or struggle in the relationship itself. Once again, this unfortunately becomes a vicious cycle: the less willing you are to be vulnerable, the more the relationship struggles; but the more the relationship struggles, the more anxious and afraid you are to be vulnerable.

Avoiding social gatherings, events, or specific people
If you’re trying to overcome social anxiety, it’s important to remember that it’s not all in your head. And I mean that literally: While worry places a central role in social anxiety, your behaviour is equally important, specifically, the tendency to avoid potentially scary social situations. Many people with social anxiety get especially nervous and uncomfortable around new people. As a result, they frequently turn down (or no-show) to social gatherings they’ve been invited to that involve unknown guests.

There are two problems with this habit of avoidance: First, it deprives you of a lot of potentially great experiences. So many new opportunities, exciting adventures, and potentially wonderful relationships simply never happen if you avoid spending time in situations that involve new people. But even worse, when you feel afraid of interacting with new people, then avoid those situations, you teach your brain that interacting with new people is dangerous. This means that the next time you have an opportunity to do something with new people, you’re going to feel even more anxious, and your desire to avoid it is going to be even stronger. Once again, the vicious cycle!

Even though social anxiety can feel like a very heady experience—worries, anxiety, nervousness, etc—it’s crucial to learn to see that it has a strong behavioural component as well. How you choose to act is every bit as important in social anxiety as how you think and feel.

Feeling like an imposter or fraud at work
Many people with social anxiety hide it extremely well. In fact, I’ve found that social anxiety seems to be especially prevalent among people who might describe themselves as high-achievers or Type-A. In other words, social anxiety is more prevalent than you would think in people who look like they’ve got it all together on the outside. But on the inside, they’re plagued with self-doubt and imposter syndrome… They constantly feel like they’re a fraud, not good enough, and that at any moment people are going to figure it out.

They’re in the habit of chronically comparing themselves to others and never feeling like they match up.
They struggle to appreciate their wins and successes because as soon as something goes well, they immediately worry that it’s not good enough or that someone will find fault with them.
Of course, this struggle of feeling like a fraud tends to show up most frequently at work. And interestingly, is especially common among people who are higher up in a company or organization—as a client explained to me once, the higher you climb the further you have to fall.

Another area of work where imposter syndrome and feeling like a fraud shows up is parenting, especially for new parents. There can be a lot of worry and comparison about how they’re doing as a parent and how their kids are doing relative to others. And as a result, they can have an intense preoccupation with feeling not good enough and worry about being “found out.” So, keep in mind that feeling like an imposter is by no means confined to the workplace.

Why not initially try an evidence based treatment program for Social Anxiety at: