The experience of Anxiety differs in two fundamental respects from the "normal" apprehension most people experience in response to everyday life events. First, the anxiety feels out of control and the individual feels powerless to direct what is happening. This can lead to the anxiety spiraling further. Second, the anxiety is interfering with the normal functioning of their lives. Examples are disrupted sleep, difficulty performing tasks at school or work or avoiding social situations.

There is no single explanation for why anxiety occurs - rather a variety of factors may be present including heredity, biology, family background and upbringing, conditioning, recent stresses, your self-talk and personal belief system or your ability to express feelings.

Social anxiety is one of the more common types of anxiety and involves embarrassment in situations where you expect to be observed or evaluated. Most people experience mild discomfort in performance or unfamiliar social situations, e.g., public speaking. Sometimes this will generalize to other situations such as eating in public, writing or signing documents while others are watching, fear of crowds or a fear of blushing or losing control of other bodily functions.

Social phobia can be improved or resolved completely by gradually exposing yourself to the situation you have been avoiding, first in imagination and then in real life. Counseling is very helpful with this process. Techniques such as imagery desensitization, and in-vivo exposure are utilized. Assertiveness training is also helpful. Self-esteem issues may need to be addressed as you develop the confidence you need to feel more comfortable in social situations.


Take the short quiz below to determine the extent to which social phobia limits your activities.

Do you avoid certain situations because you're afraid of being embarrassed or negatively evaluated by other people?

If you answered yes, which of the following situations do you avoid because of a fear of feeling embarrassed or humiliated when others are present?

  • Sitting in any kind of group (for example, at work, in school classrooms, social organizations, self-help groups)
  • Giving a talk or presentation before a small group of people
  • Giving a talk or presentation before a large group of people
  • Parties and social functions
  • Using public restrooms
  • Eating in front of others
  • Writing or signing your name in the presence of others
  • Any situation where you might say something foolish

If you answered yes to several questions, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Join a club or group on campus in which you will share an interest with others - the focus will be on the activity and not on you. Use your enthusiasm about the activity to carry you through anxious moments.
  • Feel and look friendly. Smile as you walk around campus, work on maintaining eye contact, look up, not down. You will look like a fun person to meet.
  • Look for someone sitting alone in the dining hall, coffee house or other hangout spot; introduce yourself. Some ways to start conversations include asking about an individual's opinion or advice, carrying the campus newspaper and asking about a specific event or paying a compliment.
  • Sit beside and introduce yourself to someone in your class whom you do not know; ask for clarification of a class assignment, their opinion about study strategies or other issues relevant to the course. Later you can call them for clarification or advice.
  • Keeping the focus on the other person may help to open them up to the possibility of becoming friends with you. Its fun to have somebody ask questions and be able to talk about yourself. Ask about that individuals interests, needs, problems and opinions.
  • When building a relationship, remember that positive feedback is very reinforcing. If you appear friendly and show your sense of humor, it will feel positive to be around you.
  • Share things about yourself, but don't come on too strong in your opinions or comments at this stage. You might scare away a potential friend.
  • Good conversations begin with listening to the others contribution and then responding appropriately; don't monopolize the conversation.
  • Practice starting conversations with individuals whom you don't know in low risk situations such as the line at the movies, in the grocery store.

For more information or if you would like to talk to a counselor please contact Counseling Services.

Willamette University

Academic Support

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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