The Definition Reality Of Social Anxiety Disorder
Occasionally someone will ask me what its like to have social anxiety. Well, heres how the psychology professors describe it:
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a persons life. It is chronic because it does not go away on its own.
You know the problem with this definition? It doesnt capture the REALITY of how bad having social anxiety really is. I still remember my darkest days vividly, heres just one small example
Youre taking an innocent walk in the park. Its a beautiful day. Youre really enjoying yourself. The grass is green, the birds are singing and life feels great.
Suddenly, you see some people walking towards you in the distance. Your heart skips a beat. You start to freak out inside. You try to figure out if its someone you know. Immediately you want to turn around and avoid these people, but theyve already seen you. It would look weird.
So you keep walking towards them.
Its a couple of cute girls and theyre getting closer.
At this point Id be thinking something like SH*T SH*T SH*T SH*T!
At least until the next person walks by.
In this article Im going to give an overview of the different common treatment options available for you, and which ones are the best in my opinion.
Try Some Aerobic Activity
During periods of anxiety, your body is filled with adrenaline. Putting that adrenaline toward aerobic activity can be a great way to improve your anxiety. Exercise has numerous advantages for controlling your anxiety symptoms:
- Exercise burns away stress hormones that create anxiety symptoms.
- Exercise tires your muscles, reducing excess energy and tension.
- Exercise releases endorphins in your brain which can improve overall mood.
- Exercise is linked to healthier breathing.
- Exercise is a healthy distraction.
Aerobic activity, like light jogging or even fast walking, can be extremely effective at reducing the severity of your anxiety symptoms, as well as the anxiety itself.
Powerful Ways To Help Overcome Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is often misunderstood and many people could be suffering in silence. Its much more than feeling shy and not wanting to speak up in big groups. It can really take control and impede your everyday life. Tasks such as leaving the house, speaking on the phone or shopping can be troubling and difficult to cope with. Anxiety Care UK states that social anxiety is a common and distressing condition with as many as 40% of the population suffering from it.
Social anxiety or phobia can have all sorts of repercussions and you may not only worry about negative evaluation but positive evaluation also. One study found that people who succeed at work might worry about outshining their coworkers. They simply dont want to stand out, even positively.
People suffering from social anxiety disorder look to avoid social situations. About 20% of people with social anxiety also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, with a recent study showing a stronger correlation among women. Research has shown that women have been more affected by social anxiety however its men that tend to seek more help for their phobia.
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Struggles With Intimacy Or Commitment In Friendships Or Romantic Relationships
Heightened anxiety is essentially your body going into fight or flight mode because it thinks you are in danger. So if your body is working extra hard to protect you and keep you safe, it makes sense that you would find it extra hard to be vulnerable and open up with other people.
But all healthy relationshipsespecially romantic relationshipsare built on intimacy . So if you cant be vulnerable, it severely limits your ability to grow and deepen your relationships, which eventually can lead to conflict or struggle in the relationship itself.
And once again, this unfortunately becomes a vicious cycle: the less willing you are to be vulnerable, the more the relationship struggles but the more the relationship struggles, the more anxious and afraid you are to be vulnerable.
What To Do If You Have Social Anxiety
If you think you have social anxiety, the most important question to ask yourself is whether it prevents you from achieving your goals. For example, we mentioned earlier that a large majority of people report a fear of public speaking. You might be one of them. But if your job or goals dont require public speaking, then being afraid of it might not be a big deal. On the other hand, if your fear is keeping you from getting the promotion you want, or getting in the way of an important personal goal, such as giving a speech at your sisters wedding, then you might consider looking for help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy widely is recognized as the most effective treatment for social anxiety. Its endorsed by leading mental health organizations, including the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and the U.K. National Health Service. CBT is a set of activities proven to reduce your anxiety through repeated practice. It consists of two main parts: cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy.
For example, if giving a presentation makes you extremely anxious, to the point where you might even call in sick to avoid it, your first exposure would be a similar but less anxiety-inducing situation, such as telling a story to a group of friends. Once you learn to get comfortable in these practice situations, youll be able to take your newfound confidence to more difficult situations you greatly fear or have been avoiding.
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Recognizing If You Have Social Anxiety
While social anxiety always involves a fear of being judged negatively, the actual situations that cause it can vary greatly from person to person. Many people with social anxiety feel nervous in most situations that involve interacting with or performing in front of other people. But some people only experience social anxiety in particular situations, such as speaking in front of others or hosting an event. For example, a person who is typically very outgoing and comfortable talking to strangers at parties might only have social anxiety when giving presentations. In fact, public speaking is one of the most common specific causes of social anxiety.
Do I Need Treatment For Anxiety
Thereâs a lot you can do on your own to relieve anxiety, but sometimes you need help. Psychotherapy and medication are the two main treatments for anxiety disorders.
Signs that itâs time to talk to a mental health professional include:
- Constant or nearly constant anxiety
- Anxiety that gets in the way of your daily activities, like work or social life
- Anxiety about things that donât actually threaten you
- Panic attacks
Check your health insurance policy to see what mental health services your plan covers. Then, review a list of your in-network providers to find one to connect with.
âYou donât want to add to your anxiety by paying big out-of-pocket fees,â Kissen says.
Your primary care doctor may also be able to recommend a mental health professional with experience treating anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Rosmarin notes that itâs important to find a provider you click with and trust. He also says therapy doesnât need to go on indefinitely to be effective.
âA course of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety may be eight to 10 sessions,â he says. âThereâs also data to suggest that people feel substantially better after just one therapy session for panic disorder.â
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How To Reduce Negative Thoughts
Avoid The Usual Temptations
If you have a bad habit of wasting too much time on the internet or watching television instead of socializing, try cutting back or making it educational time in terms of learning about SAD and social skills. See how much time you gain to focus on overcoming your social anxiety and building your social skills.
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Try Exercise Or Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Research shows that certain physical activities like jogging can help lower your anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation can help, too. This means flexing and releasing groups of muscles in your body and keeping your attention on the feeling of the release.
Yoga can also help you calm down. Certain types involve deep breathing, so they can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Studies show that doing yoga for a few months can help lower overall anxiety. In fact, just one class may improve mood and anxiety.
Practice Acts Of Kindness
In a 2015 study of 115 college students living with social anxiety, performing small acts of kindness for 4 weeks helped reduce the desire to avoid social situations.
The link between kindness and social anxiety may not be immediately clear, but it makes sense, when you think about it.
Social anxiety generally involves some fear of rejection or disapproval. But if youve just done something kind and thoughtful, like bringing a sick co-worker their favorite soup or offering to pick up your neighbors grocery order, the person you help is far more likely to have positive feelings toward you than negative ones.
Earning this approval on a regular basis can help decrease your fears around social situations, so you might find that interacting with others gradually becomes easier.
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Try The File It Mind Exercise
The File It technique works particularly well if youre lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or havent done, or if youre rehashing something that happened during the day.
These are the steps for performing this exercise:
The idea with this exercise is that youre taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, youre validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when its a better time.
Not Being Present In Conversations Because Youre Lost In Worries
One of the most common ways I hear social anxiety described is that it makes it difficult to be truly present in conversations. For example, youre in an important meeting with a potential client. And try as you might to stay focused on what theyre saying, you repeatedly find yourself distracted by a swarm of worries like:
- She thinks Im not intelligent enough
- Im getting way too anxious How could she trust me with her business if I cant even control myself?!
Unfortunately, even if your worries arent true, they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: All the time and attention youre giving your worries means you have less mental energy and resources to spend thinking about and contributing to the actual conversation. And the more you feel like youre not contributing to the conversation, the more anxious you get, to the point where you actually do start making mistakes or having trouble articulating your thoughts because your mind is so consumed with anxiety and worry now.
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When To Get Help For Social Anxiety
It’s a good idea to see a GP if you think you have social anxiety, especially if it’s having a big impact on your life.
It’s a common problem and there are treatments that can help.
Asking for help can be difficult, but a GP will be aware that many people struggle with social anxiety and will try to put you at ease.
They’ll ask you about your feelings, behaviours and symptoms to find out about your anxiety in social situations.
If they think you could have social anxiety, you’ll be referred to a mental health specialist to have a full assessment and talk about treatments.
You can also refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.
Consider Quitting Smoking Cigarettes
Smokers often reach for a cigarette during stressful times. Yet, like drinking alcohol, taking a drag on a cigarette when youre stressed is a quick fix that may worsen anxiety over time.
has shown that the earlier you start smoking in life, the higher your risk of developing an anxiety disorder later. Research also suggests nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke alter pathways in the brain linked to anxiety.
If youre looking to quit, there are lots of different ways you can get started. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends finding a safe substitute for cigarettes, like toothpicks.
You can also take up habits that may distract you in order to create an environment that works for your smoke-free life. Additionally, you can make a plan with a support system who can provide everything from encouragement to distractions.
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Hanging Out With Friends
Relationships matter even for us introverts, says Stone. Research also tells us that isolating is one of the worst things for anxiety and depression.
So, consider making time for friends, family, and other social engagements.
Put yourself in social situations at least weekly as a part of your self-discipline to help you build community over time, says Stone.
Simple Steps To Feeling More Socially Confident
Social anxiety disorder is often misunderstood, and many people could be suffering in silence. Its much more than feeling shy and not wanting to speak up in big groups. It can really take control and impede your everyday life. Anxiety Care UK states that social anxiety is a common and distressing condition, with as many as 40 percent of the population suffering from it.
Young People With Social Anxiety
Experiencing social anxiety and fear of social interactions can make simple responsibilities almost impossible to overcome. An estimated 15 million American adults have social anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with young adolescents who are transitioning to secondary school or college being particularly vulnerable. Its suggested that social anxiety disorder symptoms usually begin around the age of 13.
The good news is that there are ways to develop new habits to help ease and overcome your social anxiety.
1. Challenge your negative and anxious thoughts. At times it may feel like theres nothing you can do about the way you feel and how you think. In reality, though, there are a number of things that can help.
4. Create an exposure hierarchy. Identify and rate how each social situation makes you feel in terms of anxiousness. For example, 0 would mean no anxiety, and 10 would be a full-blown panic attack.
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