The effects of social anxiety and shyness
Growing up being called “too quiet”, feeling out of place in the world and struggling with social anxiety and shyness can have a devastating effect on your well-being. We know this first-hand. As introverted, ‘shy’ children, we went on to develop social anxiety and depression and we recognise that this had an impact on all areas of our lives -education, employment, socialising, relationships. We had each felt very alone throughout these challenging times and felt as if there was something dreadfully wrong with us and nobody could understand.
We knew there must be others with similar experiences and we wanted to paint a picture of what life is like for them too. We had a lot of questions: What are the most common things people struggle with in life? How often do people get support for this and what kind? Without professional help, how bad can it get? What support would people like to have available to them? How similar or different were other people’s experiences to ours?
We created a survey and asked 120 people who consider themselves to be socially anxious, shy, and/or introverted to complete it (some were friends, others were strangers who came across our research via social media). Some people shared their stories in detail and they moved us to tears. There were some very common themes. We share a small piece of this research with you here…
In their words…
"Just going into the supermarket at times has left me stuck in the car for half an hour trying to get the courage to enter."
"I have a hard time making friends. My romantic life is non-existent; I have never been kissed or even flirted with."
"People usually want quick answers and I’m not capable of "finding" my answers that quickly and I feel frustrated. I know this is my introversion, but the frustration carries it over to social anxiety. It's made me averse to choosing to go to social settings"
"Missing a lot of school because of my social anxiety resulted in court, 6 months probation and 24 hour community service."
"I feel terrified to talk to people at social events and conferences. I just end up hiding in the toilet and feeling rubbish about myself."
"Interviews are always a bust. Nobody wants to hire an introvert so we have to sell a lie of ourselves to the interviewer. It's hard enough to speak to people in my own voice, creating a new one is stressful."
“I received counselling for suicidal depression and I feel that this helped enormously with my shyness and social anxiety as well as beginning the long process of accepting and loving myself just as I am.”
Almost half of all participants had accessed professional services, but many told us these interventions were for serious conditions related to their quiet temperament (depression; suicide attempts; eating disorders, etc.) and not directly addressing social anxiety, shyness or any other challenges they were facing due to introversion or high sensitivity.
With regard to professional services, many people have found a lack of availability locally. They highlighted the attitudes of GPs and their lack of understanding, leading to the fear of approaching health professionals for support. Yet, the majority of people want help. They feel they need professional support just to survive, let alone thrive, in this world.
Top 10 reasons for seeking professional support
- To increase your self-confidence and self-esteem
- For a safe place to learn and practise coping strategies so you feel more prepared for challenging situations
- For a mentor who really gets you, to guide and motivate you
- For accountability and support to help you in overcoming anxiety, one step at a time
- To enhance your understanding of your strengths and individual needs
- To improve your communication and social skills
- For opportunities to connect with like-minded people; feel part of community and find new friendships
- For reassurance that there is nothing wrong with you and a feeling of self-acceptance
- To help others through sharing experiences and encouraging personal growth
- To learn how best to communicate your preferences and educate others