Disclaimer : Hey there, Psych2goers! Before we start, a friendly disclaimer, this article is not meant for a professional diagnosis or treatment. If you notice you or your loved ones experienced any signs stated below, please don’t hesitate to seek help from Psychiatrists or other mental health professionals.
Have you ever heard the term “taijin kyofusho?”
It is a concept of social anxiety first introduced by Japanese psychiatrist Morita Masatake in the 1930s. This is regarded as a subset of social anxiety whereby one is excessively concerned that their appearance, smell, or behaviour will be troublesome to other people. Taijin kyofusho (対人恐怖症) refers to the disorder (sho) of fear (kyofu) of interpersonal relations (taijin). You may ask, what are the examples of the feared situation according to this Japanese concept of social anxiety? Well, the feared situation can be similar to what the people in North America experience, which are feeling anxious about a first date or having to give a speech in public. However, there are also more unique fears such as feeling overly concerned that their eye movements or smell would cause unease to other people.
You may ask, why do the Japanese have distinctive feared situations compared to the people in Western cultural contexts? This is because the Japanese society gives a greater focus on interpersonal relatedness and harmonious interactions, therefore they may become really socially anxious when there is a disruption in the harmony.
Social anxiety, like any other psychological condition, exists on a continuum. On one spectrum, you feel nervous and your heart is racing pretty wild before a presentation in front of your college mates and lecturer. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, you experience an all-out socially avoidant behaviour, whereby you tend to run away and avoid giving the presentation altogether.
So, Psych2goers, now, let’s look at what are the situations that can trigger social anxiety…
- Making phone calls and speaking on the phone
Psych2goers, have you ever heard of telephone anxiety?
Telephone anxiety is regarded as a subset of social anxiety, where people reported feeling anxious when talking to other people on the telephone. The “disembodied voice”, without the presence of nonverbal cues (ie facial expressions, body language) to accompany the voice may lead to confusion about what the person on the other end of the receiver is really thinking. Some people need to factor all the behavioural and social cues (both verbal and nonverbal) to be able to know and gauge the appropriate response, to make sure the conversation flows in a smooth and healthy way.
People who have this kind of anxiety may also purposefully avoid or procrastinate to take phone calls, or switch to other forms of communication such as email or texting, which are less intrusive. Texting or emailing enables the receiver to open and read it, anytime they are free, allowing them some time to edit the response, compared to talking in real time. Apart from that, it enables one to mask their real emotion in order to avoid offending the other person, as the only “emotional cues” can be interpreted from silly emojis and emoticons (Kim, 2015).
- Being watched while doing something
You are a third year medical student who is just entering the clinical year. When you are alone with the patients, you can clerk and examine them just fine, and build rapport quite fast. However, during the bedside teaching where you are randomly asked by your lecturer to examine the patient in front of your teammates, you feel quite uneasy. It is your first time examining in front of all of them. You feel that you don’t like to be in the center of attention or “limelight”. You found that it is harder to make rapport with the patient as you feel judged and scrutinized.
Social anxiety can happen when there is a persistent fear that they will act in an embarrassing and humiliating way in front of unfamiliar people or in a new situation. You feel self-conscious, and you are fearful that people will have a negative impression of you and that you would not measure up in comparison to others.
- Going on a date
You join a photography club in the university. You have a crush on one of the seniors in the club, however you never have the courage to confess to him. One day, he approaches you, confesses that he likes you and asks you on a date. You accept the invitation, however when the date approaches, you panic and many thoughts swarm your mind, “What if he realizes I am weird after our first date?” , “What if I say something completely stupid in front of him?” , “What if the food got stuck on my teeth and he feels disgusted by it?” You suddenly feel like cancelling on the date altogether.
Psych2goers, it is absolutely normal to feel that fluttering butterflies in your stomach when you are interacting with potential dating partners. When you are in the presence of a person that you really like, you will be more self-conscious and want to make sure that you give a good first impression. It is also very normal to feel some kind of “approach anxiety” and wonder whether or not the person who you are attracted to (or dating) likes you in return. However, sometimes this shyness ends up holding people back from the love life that they really prefer (Tsatlrls, 2021).
- Meeting new people or making small talk
Psych2goers, are you the one who finds that making small talk in a group of new people is the final thing that you want to do? You constantly worry about what other people think of you. If you answer yes to both questions, there is a high chance that you have social anxiety.
According to Dr Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP, it will be hard for people with social anxiety to form new relationships, either romantic or platonic, thus they will find themselves having less friendships and will be less capable in maintaining a long-term, committed romantic relationship.
- Public speaking or performing on stage
You are invited to give a TedTalk on an issue close to your heart. It is your first time to speak in front of thousands of people, in a country not your own. When you are rehearsing your speech in the waiting room, you feel your heart beat faster, sweats come out profusely, and you are hyperventilating.
Most people, sometime in their life, will experience some form of performance anxiety or stage fright. This fear can range from mild to severe, and it can be felt in the days, weeks, or months before they have to stand up on the stage in front of an audience. When a person has an excessive fear of public speaking, it is called glossophobia, which is a subset of social phobia (Psychology Today, n.d.).
- Going to parties or other social gatherings
It is your roommate’s birthday. He invites you to his birthday party. However, you know that your roommate is an extrovert and has a lot of friends, so you are pretty sure that he will invite many people to the gathering. Huge crowds and meeting strangers makes you feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Thus, you feel reluctant to accept his invitation.
Psych2goers, oftentimes people with social anxiety feel that it is difficult to attend social gatherings because they have to meet and mingle with people that they don’t really know. Unfamiliar faces and places make them overwhelmed. These people criticize their own social skills and tend to be their own harsh critics.
- Walking into a room full of people
You are the new transfer student. You follow your new homeroom teacher to your classroom. You feel your heart pumps wildly, as you realize that you will be walking into a room full of people whom you have never known before. “What if the teacher asks me to introduce myself in front of the students?” “What if I mess up and stutter, and everyone is going to think I am a loser?”
People with social anxiety have extreme fear of rejection to the expense that they will try to avoid uncertain social situations whenever possible. Oftentimes, they tend to exaggerate their flaws and consequently, their negative thoughts will become self-fulfilling prophecies, thus further enhancing their belief that they are socially awkward (Morin, 2016).
People with social anxiety tend to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, thus they will resort to aversion to such situations. For instance, when they anticipate an event they need to attend, they will feel anxious on the days leading to the event, however when they suddenly refuse to take part in that event, they find that they no longer feel that anxiety. This sudden drop in anxiety teaches them that “I have to avoid the event and avoid mingling with strangers, so that I will feel less anxious”.
Psych2goers, do you find yourself resonating with this article? Do you find yourself feeling extreme anxiety while facing any of the aforementioned triggers? However, you can actually break free from such avoidant behaviours by seeking help from mental health professionals. They can help you to manage your fear in social situations and challenge your anxious thoughts.
Kim, J. (2015, December 15). 3 ways to tackle telephone phobia. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culture-shrink/201512/3-ways-tackle-telephone-phobia.
Morin, A. (2016, March 17). 7 things people who have social ANXIETY commonly do. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201603/7-things-people-who-have-social-anxiety-commonly-do.
Ryder, A. G. (2021, April 26). What’s the concern in social anxiety: Likability or harmony? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-health-in-context/202104/whats-the-concern-in-social-anxiety-likability-or-harmony.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Stage fright. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/stage-fright.
Tsatlrls, D. (2021, July 10). Social anxiety can sabotage your path to success. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-in-high-achievers/202107/social-anxiety-can-sabotage-your-path-success.
Whitbourne, S. K. (2018, June 16). Is social anxiety getting in the way of your relationships? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201806/is-social-anxiety-getting-in-the-way-your-relationships.