Do you fear being judged by other people? Are you nervous about talking in front of people? Do you avoid social situations?
People dealing with social anxiety find it nearly impossible to meet new people, go on dates or find jobs. For them, spontaneity along with any form of normal functioning in social settings is an unattainable dream. They can only imagine a world in which they can spark a conversation with little effort and enjoy the company of new people.
We are social by nature and, therefore we have a desire to belong to a group and to be accepted by its members. Social anxiety results from the fear that our peers may not accept us for who we are. We fear negative evaluation by other people and we have a biological need to be liked.
Social anxiety is still poorly understood in the world today and, outside of scientific circles, people, in general, don’t have a good understanding of the condition. The good news is that it is highly treatable according to the experts.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that is also known as social phobia. People with social anxiety feel fearful or anxious in social situations like being on a date, meeting new people and going for job interviews.
Someone dealing with social anxiety becomes anxious doing normal things in front of others. Eating, drinking or talking in front of another person may be very uncomfortable to someone with social anxiety.
The persistent fear of social situations or performance situations are the main factors by which social anxiety is characterized. Someone who lives with social anxiety is fearful of being in the presence of unfamiliar people. They fear that their actions will embarrass them or humiliate them and to top it all; they are afraid that people will notice their anxiety.
Some level of anxiety is normal and most people endure some or other form of social anxiety during their lives. However; people with social anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively and for long periods of time before an anticipated social situation.
People dealing with social anxiety attempt to avoid the social situations that they dread. Sometimes, avoidance is not an option and they have to endure the situation while experiencing intense distress.
Social anxiety can cause significant problems in social and occupational functioning. People with social anxiety disorder have a strong fear of social situations which they cannot control. This fear makes it difficult for them to go to work, attend school and take part in other normal social activities. In the end, they stay away from events or places where they expect that they may do something to embarrass themselves.
People who are challenged by social anxiety are not all necessarily afraid of run-of-the-mill social situations. Some people may struggle with the symptoms of anxiety while performing on stage, playing a sports game or giving a speech.
Social anxiety disorder often starts during youth and without treatment, it may last for many years and prevent people from reaching their full potential in life. It is highly comorbid which means that it can co-exist with other conditions like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
People dealing with social anxiety find ways to cope and they usually live fairly isolated lives. They may not have many friends, get married or go to social events like parties. Luckily, various forms of treatment are available to assist these people in living happy lives.
Stats About Social Anxiety
The recognition of social anxiety disorder, in general, is a cause for concern. Adults, children, and young people are often not diagnosed appropriately for this condition.
Many people are misdiagnosed as suffering from major depression alone. A missed diagnosis may occur if history taking was done improperly. This is a serious issue as it may have implications for treatment and it may negatively affect the outcome of the treatment.
Recent statistics indicate that around 12.1% of adults in the U.S. experience social anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Furthermore, it has been estimated that 9.1% of U.S. adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 years have social anxiety.
5 Ways to Start Dealing with Social Anxiety Now
Social anxiety can be dealt with in several ways. By facing what is real and changing what can be changed, the patient can experience drastic improvements in social functioning.
Attend to and Learn About Your Social Anxiety
Experts recommend that people need to face their anxiety. In therapy, the thoughts that drive the anxiety are identified and they are used to bring about improvement. Maladaptive thinking patterns are challenged as people are encouraged to expose themselves to situations that make them anxious over extended time periods. Through this exposure, they have the opportunity to realize that nothing bad will necessarily happen.
Identify and Get Rid of “Safety Behaviors”
People dealing with social anxiety often engage in “safety behaviors”. They use these behaviors to avoid being embarrassed in front of other people and it may seem to work at first. The problem is that “safety behaviors” maintain your anxiety as you end up believing that they are the sole reason why you able to survive uncomfortable social situations.
The most effective way for someone with social anxiety to gain real control is through exposing themselves to feared social situations without using their safety behaviors. Over time, the person will realize that he/she is equipped to handle situations that he/she is afraid of without using safety behaviors. The best idea would be to commence with this exposure under the supervision of a therapist as part of a treatment program.
The treatment involves listing feared social situations in order from least feared to most feared situations. The person is then encouraged to expose themselves to the listed situations repeatedly starting with the situations that are less fear provoking moving up to more challenging situations as confidence improves.
Exposure exercises help people to confront real-life situations through role-play exercises and homework assignments.
Challenge Negative Thinking
Negative thinking has an influence on social anxiety. Therefore, many types of therapy for dealing with social anxiety involve techniques to transform negative thinking into positive thinking. In essence, negative thoughts have to be understood before strategies can be put in place to change these thoughts or lessen their effect.
Cognitive restructuring is a useful technique that involves identifying negative thoughts, evaluating them and replacing them with positive thinking. It can be used on its own or as part of a more complex intervention. At first, it may be quite difficult to think with this new style. But with time and practice, the positive thoughts will come to you more naturally.
Mindfulness training encourages people to distance themselves psychologically from their negative emotions and worries; they become observers. The objective of mindfulness training is to gain greater control of how you react emotionally to certain situations by putting the “thinking part” of your brain in charge.
Practicing Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are an important part of treatment as far as social anxiety is concerned. Relaxation commonly forms part of a comprehensive treatment plan, but it can also be practiced at home.
Applied relaxation is a type of relaxation training that is used to teach people how to relax in everyday social situations. Progressive muscle relaxation is used to train individuals to relax on cue in common social situations.
Deep breathing is another helpful technique to use before a situation that may cause anxiety. By practicing it every day, you can become used to it and when you need to use it you won’t need to focus so intensely on it.
Autogenic training is a technique in which the patient repeats a series of statements to themselves about certain parts of the body. By repeating these statements it is believed that the functioning of the autonomic nervous system is influenced. Your heart rate may lower and you may also have more control over other stress or anxiety related reactions.
Practicing Self Acceptance
One of the main goals of treatment used for dealing with social anxiety is to help people understand that anxiety is treatable. Having social anxiety is not the end of the world and various techniques are available to treat this mental health problem.
Instead of focusing on gaining control over and eliminating anxiety, you could learn to accept it. By learning to tolerate your feelings of anxiety, you will start to realize that they are not as objectionable as anticipated.
Learning to accept social anxiety will help to prevent your anxious feelings from spiraling out of control.
What Are the Traditional Treatments for Social Anxiety?
In the 1960’s, social anxiety disorder became established as a separate phobic disorder. The treatment was evidence-based and involved repeated exposure to the feared social situations through imagination. Over the years, treatment approaches evolved to focus on techniques used in real social situations.
Therapy for Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is treated with psychotherapy, medication or with both. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a useful therapy in the treatment of social anxiety which teaches people that there are different ways to think, behave and react in social situations to reduce anxiety. With CBT you have the opportunity to learn and practice new social skills.
Other forms of therapy include interpersonal psychotherapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety
Seeing as many people with social anxiety tend to cope with dreaded social settings, they try to stay away from awkward situations all together as the ultimate coping strategy. For this reason, a therapist will encourage the individual to do the exact opposite during therapy.
Exposure therapy is built around the assumption that the avoidance of feared situations forms a central part in social anxiety. The treatment involves creating an exposure hierarchy which is a list of situations in which you become anxious; in order of severity.
You start with the easiest situation and move up the list to the more difficult social situations.
Meditation/Mindfulness for Social Anxiety
Mindfulness is a practice in which you detach yourself from your own thoughts and emotions and view them from an outside perspective. The objective here is to gain control over your feelings and thoughts. By allowing the practical part of your brain take over, you can keep your emotional reactions under control.
CBD Oil for Social Anxiety
The research on CBD oil or cannabidiol oil is still young. However, there is evidence suggesting that CBD oil may reduce the symptoms of social anxiety.
How to Find a Therapist
At ThriveTalk, we make it easy for you to find a therapist. ThriveTalk offers a simple sign-up process and affordable rates.
The guidance provided by our fully trained, licensed, accredited and experienced psychologists is based on proven best practices and the most up to date methodologies in human psychology. Our therapists are both caring and dedicated. We are here to listen and to provide you with proactive strategies for overcoming the obstacles in your life.
With online therapy, you can work with a therapist from your own home, which will allow you to apply the recommended techniques in everyday situations.
Get in touch with us at ThriveTalk here to learn about our services and about the benefits that our therapy has to offer for people dealing with social anxiety.
Dealing with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can be quite debilitating and the effortless social situations that most people take for granted can only be imagined by those who live with this condition.
If social anxiety is getting in your way of having a fulfilling life, seek help and you may be able to dream the impossible dream!