Fear of interaction with people

Heikki remembers being timid already as a child and being scared of being the centre of attention at school and talking in front of others. Simply having to answer a question in class would make his heart race and his hands sweat. Moving to a new town for studies and meeting new people felt scary and extremely difficult.

During his studies, Heikki felt that his timidity interfered with his life to some extent, but he thought it was just a trait he could do nothing about. However, Heikki noticed that the symptoms – dizziness, tremor and the intense fear of being humiliated – only became worse over the years. Heikki began to pay too much attention to what people were thinking when he blushed or was nervous in different social situations.

At work, Heikki notices that he is so nervous about different meetings and presentations that he finds it hard to sleep the night before. After the meeting, Heikki may spend a lot of time thinking about whether the other participants noticed how nervous he was. In his free time, Heikki has begun to avoid meeting new people or acquaintances as much as he can.

What can Heikki do?

Heikki’s timidity in social situations has always interfered with his life to some extent. Lately the problems have increased. Heikki realises that the intensity of his fear and anxiety is disproportionate in relation to the everyday situations he finds scary. Seeking the necessary help may be delayed as the symptoms may feel embarrassing and also because they have been going on for so long that they feel like a part his personality. Sometimes the people suffering from these symptoms think there is nothing they can do about them. However, there is help available for social phobias, and people should make use of the available help in order to prevent difficulties from building up even further.

Social phobias are quite common in Finland, so Heikki is not the only one suffering. Social phobias can be treated with psychotherapy, for example, and there is medication available for the symptoms. Professional help can be obtained, for example, from a (occupational health care) doctor or (occupational health care) psychologist. Talking about the fear, its occurrence and possible causes may help in overcoming the fear. 

Sometimes the fear is based on previous bad experiences or deep-rooted perceptions about giving presentations, for example. If the fear has begun already during childhood, such as in Heikki’s case, it may be also useful to analyse childhood experiences on giving speeches and making presentations. For example, did Heikki as a child feel like he was being heard in a calm manner or was he always expected to give a perfect performance? Handling and understanding of experiences behind the fear may increase self-awareness and consequently contribute to its alleviation.

If the stress symptoms are mild or if they are only associated with situations involving presentations, for example, people should try to work on them on their own. People suffering from stage-freight can play out different kinds of frightening scenarios in their head and think about what kinds of things make the situation easier. Careful preparation and playing out the situation in their minds can alleviate the stress and anxiety. You can ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation, how awful would it really be?”

Telling your close friends and colleagues about your fear of performing may help alleviate the stress. When you tell others about it, the stress becomes more trivial and less scary. Quite often someone else around you is also suffering from the same thing, allowing you to share experiences and tips.

You cannot go through life without sometimes taking the risk of failure. Consciously seek situations that can cause stress. Performance anxiety does not go away by avoiding these kinds of situations: after several experiences, feelings of success begin to emerge and, thus, presentations may even become an interesting and attractive part of life.