Social Anxiety - Pure Life Adventure in Costa Rica

Social Anxiety or the “Always Embarrassed” Disorder

Pure-Life fav icon - Wilderness Adventure Therapy in Costa Rica

Have you ever been asked the question “What is your most embarrassing moment?” and realize you have too many to choose from? Do you feel embarrassed all the time?

While all of us experience shyness in social situations at some point in our lives only about 7 to 13 percent of the adult population experiences something that may look like normal shyness but is much more severe.

Chronic, debilitating shyness or a deep fear of being embarrassed in front of other people or negatively judged is called “Social Anxiety” or “Social Phobia”.

Signs And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety is the third most common mental health disorder among young adults, yet it is often ignored or associated with “normal shyness”. Left untreated, social anxiety can have a negative impact on young adult success and make school and work almost unbearable. We’ll outline some of the ways extreme social anxiety might show up in your child:

Social Struggles:

Obviously, if you feel paralyzing embarrassment, it will be difficult to form relationships with new people. These signs might look like:

  • Difficulty being around people or speaking up in front of people
  • Difficulty forming friendships or other relationships
  • Worrying for days or weeks before a social event
  • Avoidance of social events, including classes or work
  • Dwelling on or over-analyzing every social interaction
  • Self-consciousness or embarrassment in social settings

Internalizing Shame:

Often, the shame of social anxiety is as painful as the anxiety itself, causing an ongoing loop of shame, then anxiety, then shame again. This can lead to internalization—the belief that the anxiety felt in social settings is an indication of some fundamental flaw in their personality rather than a common and treatable form of anxiety. Internalization can look like:

  • A constant fear of criticism or embarrassment
  • Negative self-image
  • Negative self-talk and negative talk about others
  • Extreme judgment of perceived failures

Physical Manifestations:

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling when in the presence of other people
  • Nail biting, skin picking, other nervous ticks
  • Nausea brought on by social interactions

Imagine for a moment that you are in a college lecture hall. Many of us would feel butterflies in our stomach a moment before raising our hand to answer a question in front of 200 unknown people. But for someone with social anxiety, even the possibility of having to speak in that lecture hall is something that could keep them from sleeping for weeks beforehand.

College is a place where social competency helps students succeed. Speaking up in lectures or during discussion sections gains the approval of the professor or tutor. Self-confidence during presentations generally results in a higher score. And when academic material gets tough, students are encouraged to reach out to their peers or tutors for help– something that is easy for students with self-confidence, but nearly impossible for those with social anxiety.

Many students with social anxiety have learned coping methods, including intense preparation for social settings, and can still be very successful in school. However, they generally struggle more than their outgoing peers.

Understanding Why You Feel Embarrassed All the Time

Several factors can contribute to social anxiety, and in almost all cases, it’s a combination of several factors. Starting with the physical and biological factors, there are some studies that show that people with social anxiety have a more active amygdala, the fear center of the brain.

They also might have more elevated heart rates when they are tasked with public speaking. Hormones can also play a role in social anxiety. Young adults struggling with social anxiety could have too much cortisol, not enough dopamine, or some other combination of hormones. Then there are the cultural and familial factors, like parents who are overprotective, overly concerned with the opinions of others or use criticism and shame to discipline. Even more, factors include a traumatic social experience as a child, social isolation during childhood, or even witnessing someone else’s negative social experience.

The Impact of Extreme Embarrassment Anxiety on Daily Life

Everyone experiences some anxiety from time to time, and even the most extroverted and gregarious among us know the feeling of social anxiety. But when social anxiety starts affecting your quality of life, it can be devastating to the mental health of your child. Not only do they experience anxiety around social situations, but they also experience shame, dread, self-loathing, sadness, and grief when they miss out on an event because of their social anxiety.

Missing out on important events like weddings, graduations, holiday parties, and other functions is devastating, and often, every missed event feels like another personal failure. Add in the difficulties those with social anxiety experience when applying for a job, asking for a raise, advocating for themselves in professional settings, getting pulled over for a speeding ticket, ordering food at a restaurant, or even going grocery shopping, and the impact social anxiety has on everyday life can’t be understated. Unfortunately, every missed social situation, from the grocery store to a wedding, brings a feeling of inadequacy, and the inadequacy causes more social anxiety, and the social anxiety causes feelings of inadequacy and so on. It’s a negative loop of self-loathing that becomes utterly debilitating.

Myths and Misconceptions about Social Anxiety and Embarrassment

The problem with social anxiety is that those who don’t suffer from it can’t really understand what it’s like, so they make assumptions based on their own experiences. There are so many misconceptions about social anxiety, including:

Social Anxiety Is Just Really Bad Nervousness Or Being Shy

Social anxiety is far beyond nerves or being shy. It’s a physical, mental, and intellectual experience of profound panic and anxiety that feels far and above normal nerves.

Social Anxiety Is Rare

It’s common. In fact, data from the World Health Organization found that 12.1% of Americans have social anxiety.

Social Anxiety Is Only About Public Speaking

While public speaking can certainly be a cause of social anxiety, it’s every social interaction that can potentially cause anxiety. Everything from ordering your food at a restaurant to asking for help from a teacher can cause social anxiety to spike.

People With Social Anxiety Could Simply Choose To Get Over It If They Wanted To

If people with social anxiety could simply will themselves to stop feeling anxious, why wouldn’t they? Social anxiety is a debilitating and painful experience; who would keep engaging in that negative behavior if it were easy to stop? The reality is that social anxiety is a real, diagnosable, and often chronic mental health condition that needs professional medical help.

You Can Always Tell When Someone Is Experiencing Social Anxiety

In all likelihood, you’ve interacted with someone experiencing social anxiety, and you didn’t know. Certainly, there are tale-tell signs like sweating, blushing, and nervous movements that indicate anxiety, but many of the symptoms of social anxiety are experienced internally. There are as many manifestations of social anxiety as there are people, so it won’t always look the same or be apparent.

Students With Social Anxiety Tendencies

It is important to remember that social anxiety is not just shyness or a personality trait. It is a mental health disorder that should be treated as such. Students experiencing social anxiety may:

  • Maintain self-image at all costs, even if their methods are harmful to long-term success.
  • Skip classes where they might be asked to speak.
  • Avoid participating in classes that they do attend.
  • Avoid asking for academic help.
  • Do poorly on projects with presentation elements where stuttering and embarrassment can be misconstrued as lack of preparation.
  • Avoid seeking help for their anxiety.

Criticism of academic performance is unhelpful to individuals with anxiety. Remember that it might be hard for a person to ask for help. Instead, offer to help them by setting up the first appointment with a mental health professional and support them through the process.

Tips to Manage Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is treatable. There are various ways to work through the social anxiety you or a loved one may be experiencing.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is the most commonly known method of therapy. Talk therapy is where you meet with a therapist to discuss your needs and learn new skills to work through your disorder. Talk therapy can also be a place where young adults can get to the root of their social anxiety, especially if their social anxiety is related to a negative social experience from younger years.

Keep A Journal

As you work through your anxiety disorder, keep a journal of progress and experiences. Your journal will allow you to recognize triggers when you are being pulled back into old habits or see negative-thinking patterns. If you are asking yourself, “Why do I feel embarrassed all the time?”,  journaling is a great way to record those moments. Focus on moments when you are feeling embarrassed and anxious to find behavioral patterns or as help during therapy to discuss difficult moments. Journaling can be an incredibly effective and fast-working tool, and in one study researchers found that emotion-focused journaling reduced anxiety and depression in one month.

Set Goals

It is important to put your wants (aka goals) on paper. Commit to change and make a decision about what your goals actually are. If you can then create a path and steps towards that goal, when you are presenting with feelings of embarrassment or discomfort, you have a task or end goal to focus on and keep moving forward. When you first start setting goals, start very small. Not because you can’t achieve a bigger goal but because that small achievable victory will give your brain a hit of feel-good chemicals like dopamine that will encourage more action and motivation.

Review Your Diet and Improve Your Health

Poor health has shown great connections with our mental health. While working on the external part of social anxiety, begin by focusing on the inside and making positive improvements towards a healthier lifestyle. Start exercising regularly, reevaluate your diet and improve it as needed. If you notice that changes like a healthier diet and more exercise still aren’t helping you feel better in your body, find a medical professional to ensure there aren’t underlying health conditions. Stay away from alcohol and find natural ways to calm your nerves such as chamomile tea.

Calculated Exposure to Social Settings

This method is best done with the guidance of a licensed professional. Exposure therapy is the method of actively putting yourself in situations that are fearful or stressful for you so you can work through how to cope with the fears as a professional is by your side. Studies have shown that exposure therapy has a reduced severity of symptoms.

Mindfulness and Breathing Practices

Once the anxiety sets in, it can be very difficult to bring blood pressure down and allow ourselves a moment to calm down. With practice, you can use mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques to curtail the negative effects of anxiety. You can employ many different types of mindfulness practices depending on the situation, from yoga to meditation to a nature walk. Practice makes perfect, and it is no different when finding a calming technique for feelings of embarrassment or social anxiety.

If left untreated, however, only about one-third of individuals with social anxiety will achieve remission within 10 years. This is especially concerning given that social anxiety often coexists with depression and substance abuse disorders. If you are in a state of constant embarrassment or want to learn how to cope with social anxiety and prevent more serious issues, Pure Life’s wilderness adventure therapy may be just what you need.

What Is Outdoor Adventure Therapy For Young Adults?

Outdoor adventure therapy (also known as wilderness adventure therapy) is an opportunity for young adults to experience life in a new and calming way that allows them to work through issues that may be holding them back in life with a licensed therapist that may be holding them back in life.  Issues they would like help with could include depression, different varieties of anxiety, lack of focus or direction, or the feeling of being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Pure Life Adventures program takes young adults with anxiety into a Costa Rican community and provides them opportunities to work with other young adults to cook community meals, serve the Costa Rican community, and harvest food from our organic garden.  This can be done while taking a gap year or even a gap semester. Our gap year programs for mental health are effective as they allow young adults to work issues in group therapy environments as well as individual therapy with our licensed therapists.

One of the beautiful aspects of our outdoor adventure therapy gap year experience is the opportunity to build self-confidence and meet anxiety head-on with new skills such as river rafter, surfing, rappelling, and other wilderness activities. We provide certification classes to ensure that these new skills are learned with safety in mind while building confidence in our students.

There’s Hope For Young Adults With Social Anxiety

Social anxiety, whether you are personally experiencing it or watching a loved one suffer from it, is an isolating and exhausting experience. You don’t have to face it alone, and there’s hope for healing. If you are experiencing social anxiety and feeling embarrassed all the time and don’t understand why Pure Life would like to talk to you. Please reach out and speak with our team to see if our outdoor adventure therapy while taking a gap year or gap semester would work for you.

If you are a parent or loved one to a young adult struggling to move forward in life due to social anxiety or other issues, please reach out and speak with Pure Life today to see if a therapeutic gap year can help. If you need resources right now, you can download our free white paper called “Young Adult Anxiety.” We’re here to help, and you don’t have to face social anxiety alone.

Download Your FREE White Paper

Pure Life Adventure, a research-based Wilderness Outdoor Adventure Therapy program for young adults in Costa Rica, sponsored this white paper. Pure Life Adventure offers safe, effective, and clinically sophisticated, including gap year programs for anxiety for young adults.

More On Outdoor Adventure Therapy with Pure Life…

Talk to Pure Life Adventure Today!
What is Wilderness Adventure Therapy?
FOR YOUNG ADULTS: Tips For Managing Anxiety

Share this post

Check out some of our other posts: