NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Picture this: You’re about to give a really important presentation at work or school, and you just freeze. Your heart starts racing, your hands are shaking and sweating, you can’t look at your peers, and you just forget what your presentation is about.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), social anxiety is an intense and persistent fear of being watched and judged, and the feeling is beyond a person’s control.

“It’s exactly what it sounds like, it’s a fear of social situations. Fear that people are constantly judging them,” said Dr. Christy Wilkie, LCSW at Dakota Family Services.

It’s a form of anxiety that can affect work, school, and even daily activities, as it makes it hard to make and keep friends.

Some people discover their social anxiety during performances or speeches rather than just simple social interaction.

It typically starts in late childhood and becomes more pronounced in adolescents and young adults, more women are diagnosed with social anxiety versus men.

“Most are diagnosed between 11 and 19, mostly around 13, but can develop later in life. More often in women, just slightly higher than men. Boys deal with insecurity by overcompensating, they come off as confident, they are able to mask it better than women,” said Wilkie.

And without any treatment, it can last years or even a lifetime.

If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, it’s suggested that you talk with your healthcare provider. There’s a possibility of being referred to a mental health professional, as most are treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Blushing, sweating, and trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mind going “blank”
  • Feeling sick to the stomach
  • Having fear or a negative judgment
  • Having a rigid body posture
  • An overly soft voice when speaking
  • Hard to make eye contact
  • Hard to be around people
  • Avoiding places with lots of people
  • Hard to talk to people in social environments
  • Being self-conscious

Wilkie said the best things a person can do to control social anxiety before a presentation or something like that is to prepare sooner rather than later, visualize how you want it to go, and breathe.

Square or box breathing is a great exercise. The breathing exercise is just inhaling slowly for four counts, holding for four counts, and exhaling for four counts.