Do You Have Social Anxiety?

Don’t confuse it with being shy or awkward around people. It’s a crippling condition that could mess with both your social and professional lives. The good news is, you don’t have to live with it.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Don’t confuse it with being shy or awkward around people. It’s a crippling condition that could mess with both your social and professional lives. The good news is, you don’t have to live with it.

"It’s not that I’m shy – I just can’t deal with being judged by everyone!"

Riverdale star Lili Reinhart has battled it. So have actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Olivia Munn, and even singer Adele. We’re talking about social anxiety – a condition in which people feel intense anxiety and distress about interacting with others in unfamiliar social situations. It can, in fact, be crippling. Lili has said in previous interviews that her social anxiety, which developed when she was a kid, was so bad that she even had trouble going to birthday parties. “I begged my mum to let me be homeschooled at one point for a semester, because I was so miserable at school,” she added.

Psychologist Cristina Gonzalez, of Alliance Counselling in Singapore, says people with social anxiety are not necessarily introverts, or shy. “Introverts are more focused on their inner world,” Cristina clarifies. “Unlike extroverts, they are not as interested in other people, so they are less motivated to socialise.” Introverts avoid social events because they don’t feel like going. People with social anxiety do so because they worry about being negatively judged and evaluated by others.

The condition might not be as uncommon as you think, as statistics from the Institute of Mental Health indicate that one in 10 Singaporeans actually suffers from anxiety and depressive disorders.

How to Know You’re Not Just a Wallflower

You’re excessively and unreasonably anxious in social situations

You obsess for days, weeks or even months before an important social event. And if you convince yourself to show up, you feel really self-conscious and can’t help thinking that other people are judging you negatively.

You feel unwell

Uncomfortable social situations make you sweat, literally. Your heart races, your muscles tighten, you have trouble breathing, and you might even feel nauseated or dizzy.

You need coping mechanisms to get through parties

You avoid situations that scare you. For example, you might fake a headache to miss an important networking session – even though you know it could benefit your career. At social events, you end up drinking a lot to calm your nerves, or even biting your nails.


A) Ask yourself if your fears are warranted “Differentiate facts from thoughts,” says Cristina. “Repeat to yourself: ‘Just because I think I’m embarrassing myself does not mean it’s true.’” For all you know, that woman looking at you strangely might just be guilty of having a resting b*tch face.

B) Talk to someone about how you’re feeling “Family and close friends can give you the support you need,” Cristina says. But draw the line at talking to your boss and colleagues, who may try to help by covering for you – even if your colleagues are nice enough not to throw a fit about carrying your weight, it’s not doing you any favours. You need to resolve the issue, not walk away from it.

C) Get professional help Cognitive behavioural therapy and medical treatment might work better for you. You’ll learn relaxation techniques from a psychologist or psychiatrist, as well as cognitive restructuring (that’s medical speak for changing your mindset) to imagine social situations and mentally prep for them. You’ll also get to test this out in real-life scenarios.


The moment you start to feel anxious in a social setting, excuse yourself, find a quiet place, and practise muscle relaxation. Here’s how:

1. Find a comfortable place where you can sit down.

2. Flex your feet, pull yourtoes towards you, and feel the tension inyour calves. Hold for five seconds, then relax.

3. Pause for 10 seconds, then tighten your thighs, press your knees together, and hold for five seconds. Release and pause for 10 seconds.

4. Repeat thiprocess with the muscles inyour bum, stomach, lower back and shoulders

5. Finally, smile widely, feeling your mouth and cheeks tense.Squint until your eyes aretightly shut and hold for five seconds, then release.

6. Imagine a wave of relaxation spreading through your body from your head all the way downto your feet. Feel the weight of yourbody. Then take three slow breaths in and out.

7. Once your nerves are steady, go back to working the room. You’re likely to feel more at ease now.