Social Anxiety in Men: What Causes It and How to Beat It


Note from Chase: this is a guest post on understanding and combatting social anxiety, by Will Legend, writer for and founder of DecodeHer.


Have you ever wanted to do something, but backed out because you were overcome with the fear of embarrassment? If you have, then you’ve had social anxiety.

social anxiety

Personally, I’ve experienced social anxiety. When I was in school, I hated being called on in class. Sometimes, I’d fumble with my words. Other times, I’d turn red. And when I felt the blood rush to my cheeks, I was even more embarrassed.

Chances are, you’ve experienced some degree of social anxiety as well. Some experience so much fear in certain situations that they grow frightened just thinking about them. For others, it’s not as severe, but still brings about a feeling of insecurity.


What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is the fear of being negatively evaluated by others. Oftentimes, it occurs in situations that are outside your comfort zone – think public speaking. My close friend who has severe social anxiety experiences it when approaching girls. It’s out of his comfort zone, as he’s recently out of a long-term relationship. In his case, he feels nauseous approaching girls. It’s something he tries to avoid at all costs.

There’re different triggers of social anxiety – e.g., you don’t want to be looked at as unintelligent, inadequate, etc., and fears of this happening can trigger your anxiety. But going outside of your comfort zone and wandering into unfamiliar territory is a recurring theme.

There are a lot of activities that can trigger social anxiety in a person. Some of them are out of most people’s comfort zone – for example: public speaking, performing on a stage, or interacting with “important” people. Those are activities that many people don’t perform on a regular basis. Thus, it would make sense to the majority of us that there would be anxiety involved.

However, there are other everyday activities that cause social anxiety, such as meeting new people, making phone calls, using public restrooms, or eating in public. There’s a bunch of variance when it comes to what people are anxious about.


What Causes Social Anxiety?

Internal Cues

There’ve been numerous studies done on social anxiety, and the results suggest that high-anxious individuals are more focused on internal cues, such as blushing or increased heart rate, than non-anxious individuals. It’s a vicious cycle – they assume that others can see these cues and will judge them even more negatively, which then amplifies these internal cues even more. For example, a mild increase in heart rate, when noticed, focused on, and worried over, can proceed to turn into an extreme increase. You know, when it feels like your heart is trying to jump out of your chest.

Focusing on internal cues is related to the “spotlight effect”. This effect explains how people overestimate how much other people notice about their appearance and behavior. Sound familiar? Maybe during lunch one day you get a ketchup stain on your crisp white t-shirt and think everyone will notice it. But not everyone does. And even if they do, they don’t judge you as harshly as you’d think.


External Cues

social anxiety

Internal cues are just part of the picture. High-anxious individuals also focus differently on external cues. Studies have concluded that high-anxious individuals have a tougher time shifting their attention away from social threat cues – for example, a snake or an angry face.

Which makes sense. Have you ever made a speech, and it seemed that everyone in the audience had a look of disgust? This happens to high-anxious individuals, who are more likely to focus on looks of disgust than they are neutral or positive faces. The good news is: it has been proven that this anxiety can be eased over time by focusing on the neutral and positive faces in the same situation!

Further, high-anxious individuals are more likely to interpret ambiguous external cues as being threatening than non-anxious individuals are


What to Understand to Reduce Anxiety

So how do we work towards having less social anxiety? First, we should understand a couple of things:


The “spotlight effect”

Even in embarrassing moments, people aren’t judging you as negatively as you think – not even close. A widely quoted study on the “spotlight effect” involved students and a Barry Manilow t-shirt. A random college student was picked to wear an “embarrassing” piece of clothing (researchers concluded that a t-shirt with a picture of Barry Manilow would be considered sufficiently embarrassing for this college demographic). The student wore the t-shirt in front of his peers, and estimated that approximately 50% of them would notice the person on the t-shirt. However, in reality, only 25% of their peers actually noticed the Barry Manilow t-shirt.

The researchers repeated this study with “non-embarrassing” pieces of clothing – shirts with pictures of Bob Marley, Jerry Seinfeld, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Again, the student would wear this t-shirt in front of his peers, and again estimated that 50% of them would notice the person on the t-shirt. However, this time, only 10% of them noticed.

This study showed that people are too caught up in their own thoughts to even notice something as salient as an embarrassing t-shirt. Truly, we often shine the spotlight on ourselves, even when others do not.


People who are socially anxious remember less about external environments

That’s because people who are socially anxious are so focused on themselves. In social situations, they are in the spotlight. The situation is comparable to holding a mirror right in front of your face – you’ll focus on the mirror and be blind to what’s going on around you.


Women are more likely to have social anxiety than men

Just some food for thought: you may be the shy guy who is overwhelmed by anxiety whenever you approach girls. The flip side of this is that the girls you approach are even shyer, and are often so overwhelmed by anxiety at the thought of approaching guys that they never do. The fact that you have the courage to approach is itself commendable in most girls’ eyes.


What to Do to Reduce Anxiety (Actionable!)

Shift attention away from internal cues and focus on external cues

If there’s one piece of advice from this column that you can put into action, then this would be it. When you’re anxious, stop thinking about what’s going on within your body. Whether it’s blushing, shaking, or sweating, you should divert your attention elsewhere.

For example, say your friend invites you to a party at his place. If you’re anxious about meeting people, then you’d normally be super anxious about putting yourself in this type of party scenario. But this anxiety can be reduced. Focus on things going on in the environment around you. What color are the walls? Is there any interesting décor? Try to notice what people are wearing. Have a conversation with five people and try to remember something about all five of them. Shifting your attention towards the environment, and doing so over and over again, can help you overcome social anxiety in that moment and also in the long run.


When looking at external cues, shift attention away from threatening ones and focus on neutral and positive ones

We’ve discussed that prolonged focus on threatening external cues can cause social anxiety.

It’s more cyclical than anything: social anxiety causes this focus, which in turn causes social anxiety. People who aren’t socially anxious are quicker to move past threatening external cues.

Fortunately, you can reprogram your brain to shift attention quicker to neutral and positive cues. All it takes is repetition. One study showed that after just a single month of training the brain to more quickly shift attention to neutral cues, the subjects’ anxiety levels markedly decreased. Amazing.


Make a public speech and video record it

Or, approach girls and video record the interaction. Watch the recording and examine yourself. What do you notice? Did your face turn red? Did your speaking pace increase? Did your hands or body shake uncontrollably? Chances are, even if you do notice these things, they aren’t nearly as noticeable as you thought they were in real-time. Truth is, your audience will notice it even less. They’ve got a million things going on in their brain at any given moment.

Additionally, recording and watching yourself deliver a speech or presentation drastically improves your speaking abilities. The first time I was recorded was in a communications class freshman year in college. When I watched the tape, I noticed I used the word “like” a TON. During the actual presentation, I had zero realization that that was the case, and, afterwards, I made an honest effort to eliminate my use of that word. The next time I delivered a presentation I again watched the recording, and, sure enough, I had completely eliminated the word “like”. It was magical.

I will say this though: public speaking causes anxiety even in the most experienced speakers. They just are able to overcome their anxiety easier because they’ve “been there before”.


Be genuinely curious about other people

This is something you should be doing whether or not you are socially anxious. Let’s put things in perspective: say you’re making a public speech. Unless you’re a celebrity, no one cares who is delivering the information – they just want the information. Don’t over think what you’re going to say; rather, think about ways you can deliver something interesting or useful to them. The best presentations engage the entire audience by focusing on their needs.

To get rid of anxiety, spend time observing people and observing the environment. As cliché as it sounds, everybody’s got a story. Everybody’s got something you can learn from. The key is to be genuinely interested. Remember: people enjoy talking about themselves.

Another positive of getting someone else to open up is that the spotlight is no longer on you. There’s no pressure on you to keep the conversation moving, as long as the person you’re talking to continues to babble on.


Put yourself in awkward situations

Don’t be afraid to do this. Remember, social anxiety stems partly from being out of your comfort zone. If you are ALWAYS out of your comfort zone, then you won’t feel anxiety even in embarrassing situations. Here are two simple things you can do today that will move you out of your comfort zone:

  1. Go to your local café and try to get a 10% discount on a coffee. Do this with a straight and honest face. Straight up tell the cashier that you’d like a discount. Afterwards, you can tell them that you did it for a self-development course.

  1. Approach three strangers and tell them something embarrassing about yourself.

social anxiety

Try these two things out. Did you experience anxiety? If you did, then reflect over these two situations. Did anything negative happen as a result?

I’d argue that social anxiety isn’t a bad thing. If you have absolutely zero social anxiety that probably means you haven’t stepped outside of your comfort zone enough. Keep in mind that reading this article isn’t a cure for social anxiety. It’s merely a guide. Go into unfamiliar territory, have feelings of anxiety, and fight against those feelings.


Will Legend is a dating columnist and the founder of DecodeHer. Liked this article? Check out his website and learn about what women really want. For four free videos on the hottest dating and sex topics, click here.

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Comments

Alcaeus's picture

Logistical Anxiety


Chase,

Yup, it is truly a challenge to leave your comfort zone. But in hindsight, you will certainly look back on the experience and smile at yourself because you will honestly know that you "lived life".

Once again Chase, I have read many times of readers syncing their interactions with a recent relevant post that you get up on the site. It happened to me many time before and this time was no different.

I went on a second date with a girl.( Yes, I know -- BAD. But here me out. Also I will be breaking a lot of other rules in my effort to improvise attraction and stall. )

I met her at a social event/extended social circle. I played text message game beautifully. She texted me first after we swapped numbers at the event so I knew I had it in the bag. I had that date set up in 3 text messages and we were at Starbucks that same Saturday.

My game was impeccable. She got there late, and when she arrived she hugged me. I remained unmoved and guided her back to my chest as she tried to sit down and kissed her on the lip. THEN, we sat down. I deep dived her for 10 minutes. Guided her outside into the rain and we made out under the streetlights.

In the back of my head. I knew I was moving super slow. This was fast for me at the time but for where I wanted to be and what Girlschase was teaching me, I knew I should have had her in my bed in 10 minutes. Why didn't I have her in my bed? Because of logistical anxiety.

My house was occupied with my family so I couldn't seal the deal. And I know Chase is adamant about kissing before you can escalate to sex but I had to confirm to her that I am a man that will fulfill her needs. Fast forward one month later...

She is texting me back and forth about meeting up. Through some probing questions I clandestinely confirmed that our homes were very unlikely to be available for sex. It had been a month and I knew my attraction was waning. So I compromised yet again. She suggested a dinner date, but I countered with a movie date. (I wasn't going to go back to deep diving. Never deescalate or go backwards in a seduction. We deep dived on the first date.) I decided the movie date because talking would be to a minimum which would decrease the chances of running through topics I covered a month ago (She is a Dartmouth graduate so she is acute on conversation) and the objective was for her to know that I still exist as a mate.

Throughout the movie (Oh, the movie was "That Awkward Moment". Yup, an excellent choice..!) she wouldn't stop grabbing my leg and it just killed me as I knew that I should be shagging her. A little voice in the back of my head spoke about taking her to the bathroom and going to work but it didn't manifest.

The movie was over and that completed the second date without making her my lover. We talk sex, I lead like a Nazi, and she swears she can't wrap herself around me because I am so mysterious and sexy. I am dying inside as I don't have a location to seal the deal. I considered the unconventional open sex (alley, park, etc...) but it is 22 degrees outside. The bathroom idea resurfaced back but as I saw the crowed bathrooms after the movie I scrapped the idea. And a hotel is honestly out of our (my )budget range so it was seriously driving me to tears as we made out once again and went our separate ways.

Chase, I am not worried about the girl. If I lose her, I lose her. I am more worried about repeating the same mistake. A post on sticky logistics would be phenomenal. I can't work like this...

Anonymous's picture

what are her living


what are her living situations?

Chase Amante's picture

Logistics

Author

Alcaeus-

Looks like you're doing great with her. There're always options if you're willing to think a little outside the box; hotel, private hot tub, day trip somewhere that requires you to get a room together, etc. all seem like good bets here.

I'd recommend checking out this article: "Sex Logistics: How to Get Intimate in Unusual Places" if you haven't already, and then doing some research on your town to see what options are available. What you're looking for is somewhere fun and interesting that'll let you have a private room where you can lock the door and won't be interrupted - karaoke's another one along with the hot tub that give you a great way to do this outside of the conventional hotel / backseat of your car method. I have a good friend who used to have girls come rent a private karaoke with him, sing, then escalate to sex then and there because he didn't have a place to bring them otherwise back when he was doing this.

Get a little creative, and you can find a way that's both fun AND functional.

Chase

Extraordinaire's picture

Fear of being the center of attenrion


"While as a child we need and deeply crave the love and attention of our parents, often times this attention when turned upon us can become a poisoned chalice.
Children very often do not receive their parents' full, undivided attention. This is especially the case when the child is doing what the parents want. Parents will rarely reinforce positive behaviour; just punish bad behaviour! Generally children only get their parents attention when they do something the parent perceives as bad. What normally ensues in those circumstances is that the child receives a severe verbal scolding or perhaps the 'silent treatment' (and accompanying crippling withdrawal of love). The parental attention may even go so far as physical abuse.
The child exposed to this attention often enough begins to develop a severe fear to having the spotlight on him. Having parental eyes focused upon him invariably carries with it the penalty of emotional or physical pain and to a vulnerable mind, the threat of death. It becomes easier to avoid situations where attention will be focused on you, to withdraw, to fade into the background."

Chase do you believe this where the problem stems from?

I've been aware of this issue in myself from a long time ago... and I still haven't been able to find a solution.. I considered a program called "Open Focus" that claims to make you able to stay calm even when are with a lion in the same room, by shiftng your narrow focus on this threat to something else...

though I later realized focusing on solving this issue made it even worse... even reading articles like this one might be counterproductive, so I decided to forget I had this problem and now things seem to be better.. but it still looks like I will never completely cure it.

Chase Amante's picture

Center of Attention

Author

Extraordinaire-

This was a great article by Will. I haven't read the research, so I don't know what the general agreement is on the source, although I can personally say I had great parents and always enjoyed being the center of attention, but I still dealt with tremendous social phobia for a number of years. It seems like childhood relationships with the parents is a major cause of social anxiety for many guys, but in my case it was something else - I think it's safe to say there are multiple possible sources for any kind of trauma-induced mental rewiring.

Personally, my own experience has been just repeatedly pushing yourself into one uncomfortable social situation after another after another and confronting the fear head on will cure you of it faster than you might imagine. Indeed, that's been my experience for all fears - I have few left that are really panic inducing, and they're mostly the ones that you can't do much to condition out other than accepting death (e.g., things like drowning, being buried alive, or extreme hypothermia / terminal burrowing); everything else you can train out with sufficient exposure. Social anxiety clears fast as you accumulate larger and larger social experiences and force your brain to realize nothing bad is actually going to happen to you, even if you make a fool of yourself. It may still hang around at the very edges of your experience, but even then, you can train yourself to get an adrenaline rush tackling new areas where fear still exists for you, which effectively resolves the problem from ever controlling you again.

Chase

blogster's picture

good article


Good article. One thing I would add though as a touch of realism. Having dealt with this stuff previously through CBT (which worked really well), a common foundation of the CBT is to work with the underlying assumption that it is the individual's incorrect/exaggerated interpretation of external cues that leads to anxiety.

While perception is important, the reality is that you may very well actually be coming across as socially awkward/inept independent of any anxiety. Realising you suck socially can lead to anxiety. The reality is that addressing the social skill component (being competent) is crucial. If you suck at something (whatever it is) unfortunately people are going to let you know (in some way) and it will hurt. Deal with that, develop your skills, push through and you will get much better responses and improve the feedback mechanism over time to a point where you don't notice it.

Further, you may have been born with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and therefore are automatically coming across as anxious/nervous purely out of your control. Those with GAD often have highly sensitive nervous systems and are extremely aware of their environment/surroundings and get easily aroused/overstimulated by environments which 'normal' people do not. This has positives and negatives. On the one hand, these types can pick up small details and differences, pick up the 'mood' of a social landscape quite quickly etc.

I know from experience working through anxiety that after a social event, returning to a quiet environment I realise my nervous system returns to calmness again. When confronted with environmental stimulation again, a base level of anxiousness/nervousness returns. This can be reflected in an anxious sounding voice, low energy, slower speech etc as you are dealing with the over arousal. People then interpret it as lacking confidence as such, which they often visibly show, leading to social anxiety - and a downward spiralling pattern.

I can' t count the number of situations where I haven't actually been 'nervous' of 'fearful' of the situation, but because of my nervous system responses, get treated as such by people.

I applaud this article and would say to anyone dealing with this to make sure you are aware of how you are responding to external stimuli and monitor cause and effect mechanisms.

steven h's picture

why...


Awesome techniques. Truly. Only thing that's strange is that when I'm owning the room my attention is actually focused on myself and I don't even notice the environment. Why is this?

Chase Amante's picture

Focus

Author

Steven-

Yes, that's an interesting phenomenon. If I had to guess, I'd propose it's just that you're moving around and changing conversations so much that it's impractical to focus much on others, so instead you focus on controlling yourself to appear maximally appealing to as many different varied others as possible.

Chase

Anonymous's picture

Chase, is it possible for you


Chase, is it possible for
you to write an article that focuses mainly on Cold Approach?

Brian48's picture

Hey Chase, hows it going?


I really appreciate your site, I'm starting to make some good strides life-wise. I'm more organized and goal oriented. I've put away the wanna-be tough guy image and have become more independent and productive. I've also cut off all of my so-called sorry ass friends and ex-girlfriends who seemed to cause problems for me whenever they got the chance. I simply don't have the time or patience for the bullshit. Thank you for leading the way. I can now sit back and watch other people go threw the same problems and trials over and over again.

My question was you never did an article on good hairstyles. I'm black but I'm a barber so I was curious what hairstyles I could recommend to clients I get with straight hair, you know white and Hispanic. Thanks for your feedback.

Chase Amante's picture

Hairstyles

Author

Brian-

Sounds like you're making some great strides with your life and are in a pretty good place these days! Thanks for the reminder on hairstyles; I'll see if I can get one up sooner. That's a challenging one to write because you want to capture the right mix of classic and trendy; pretty easy for an article on the subject to go out of fashion pretty quickly, and then it has to be done all over again, and that's what I want to avoid with such an article.

Chase

Blackdragon's picture

Videotaping Yourself


I'll repeat the advice given in the article about videotaping yourself giving a speech, or even just talking to people. You'll be shocked at some of the crazy stuff you do that you aren't even aware of.

I used to have a problem of speaking way too fast when I spoke in front of groups (I still do, but it's not nearly as extreme). Videotaping myself made a huge difference.

Great article.

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