I feel intense shame when I’m talking to someone, overwhelmed by my fear of saying the wrong thing and by their attention, which compounds the fear of making eye contact. It’s making it more and more difficult for me to do what I want to do out of the house, especially if I have to do it on my own.
What could be causing this and how can I change it? My therapist diagnosed me with social anxiety, so what is it?
In this counseling answer:
• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on the psychological aspect of the problem.
• Medicine is available.
• Counseling is another option to help work on issues such as self-esteem
• Relaxation exercises can help a lot.
• From an Islamic perspective, getting closer to Allah (swt) and remembering Him is a cure for anxiety.
Wa ‘Alaikum Salaam wa Rahmatulahi wa Barakatuh,
Yes, indeed, it sounds like you are experiencing social anxiety. Social anxiety can be very debilitating because it affects you to the extreme that you panic at the thought of even talking to someone even before you have actually engaged in any interaction with them.
Social anxiety disorder refers to extreme and often irrational anxieties in social situations such as those you describe. You may experience sweating, nausea, shaking, muscle tension…etc. and, therefore, avoid social situations as much as possible.
Social anxiety disorder is more common than you would think, so there are many others like yourself who experience these feelings in social situations also.
There a number of potential causes to social anxiety. Some psychologist suggest that it is a learned response having witnessed anxious behaviors in someone else, especially someone close, like your family.
So, perhaps if you have a family member or friend who behaves in this way too then it is that you learned this anxious response to social situations from them.
It may also be a result of childhood experiences such as bullying experienced as a child which can often result in psychological difficulties or social situations such as the ones you are currently facing due to the impact on self-esteem.
Alternatively, others suggest a physiological component, proposing that social anxiety occurs as a result of an overactive component of the brain responsible for the fear response (the amygdala), therefore, resulting in over-exaggerated fear response to a situation that might otherwise cause a very small amount of anxiety.
From an Islamic perspective, it could be down to something like waswas (Shaytaans whispers) convincing you that others are judging you negatively, or that you have said the wrong thing. It may also be an interaction of all these things causing your social anxiety disorder.
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The good news is a treatment for social anxiety disorder has been proven to be very effective, and there are a number of different options available.
Medication is available to treat anxiety by focusing specifically on the physical effects of anxiety.
Another common and successful treatment option is counseling, of which there are several types available.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on the psychological aspect of the condition by seeking to replace the irrational thoughts that occur in social situations with more rational ones, therefore, encourage a more adaptive approach as a result of cognitive restructuring (for example).
Counseling is another option to help work on issues such as self-esteem (by identifying and overcoming any insecurities and recognizing and appreciating your strengths) and social skills (and practicing such with your counselor through role-play in preparation to exercise them more publicly) if that is what is causing your social anxiety.
Relaxation exercises accompanying counseling can often be a good way to simultaneously treat the physical symptoms at the same time as the psychological ones.
Exposure therapy is another approach used to treat social anxiety. Along with the counselor, you are gradually exposed to the situations that you fear, for example, by first imaging going to talk to a cashier, and then actually going to talk to one with the counselor by your side, and eventually going to do this by yourself.
Your therapist may work with you to use one or a combination of these techniques in order to combat your problem.
From an Islamic perspective, getting closer to Allah (swt) and remembering Him is a cure for anxiety and He tells us so Himself in the Qur’an.
“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” (13:28)
“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.” (2:152)
In addition, there are a number of authentic ahadith that describe du’aa’s that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) used to recite of recommend to others to overcome anxiety.
“Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet (saw) used to say, “O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (other) men.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
“Narrated Ibn `Abbas: Allah’s Messenger (SAW) used to say at the time of difficulty, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, the Majestic, the Most Forbearing. None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, the Lord of the Tremendous Throne. None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, the Lord of the Heavens and the Lord of the Honourable Throne.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
“Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not.” (Abu Dawud)
Therefore, it is recommended to complement any psychological therapy that you have with increased worship of Allah (swt) to help ease your anxieties and referring to the numerous supplications that have been reported that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) used to say himself during times of anxiety and distress.
May Allah (swt) bring you ease and guide you to overcome your anxieties. May He (swt) make it easy for you to engage in social interaction again with no problems.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.