What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety – also called social phobia, or social anxiety disorder – is a paralyzing condition that affects those afflicted when presented with otherwise normal social settings. Those affected with the disorder often feel uncomfortable in larger social gatherings, as well as smaller gatherings that feature newcomers that they aren’t already familiar – or comfortable – with. The disorder is often manifested within a fear of embarrassment and this fear becomes so intense that those afflicted with the condition often withdraw from situations in which they fear this is a possibility.
More severe cases of social anxiety disorder leave those with the disorder feeling as if they are being watched or scrutinized in situations that find them with other people. A trip to a mall might be unbearable for fear that they are being watched, talked about, or judged by random passersby who are often oblivious to their existence. While most with social anxiety realize that this fear is overblown or irrational, they can’t help feeling anxious when confronted with situations in which they feel uncomfortable.
For some, this fear only exists in certain social and performance situations. This is known as generalized social anxiety disorder and is common amongst actors, musicians, and public speakers. For others, the anxiety is connected with everyday stimuli such as talking with strangers, eating at a restaurant, or shopping at a local grocery store.
Most adults experience social anxiety, but the severity at which those with social anxiety disorder experience it is often crippling.
Methods Used in Therapy for Social Anxiety
Psychotherapy – such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) – and/or prescription medication is the most common treatment plan for those affected by severe social anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral treatments such as exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training are often used by therapists to help overcome the severity of the condition. While these treatments are effective in limiting the anxiety in those affected, there is no definitive cure, and even with years of therapy, you are likely to still suffer from the symptoms of social anxiety. However, with proper therapy and a treatment plan catered to your specific anxiety triggers, most that suffer from these social phobias go on to lead normal lives by learning coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms of anxiety brought on by social situations.
Prescription drugs – such as Xanax – have been proven to be a powerful tool in reducing the stress brought on by this form of anxiety. The drug blocks certain neurotransmitters that would normally bring on the “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. When used in conjunction with psychotherapy, these drugs have been proven to be effective in reducing the effects of social anxiety.
Why Hire a Therapist?
Most therapists are well equipped to handle social anxiety sufferers due to its relatively common nature. That said, each case is different and the triggers that bring on the stress and anxiety will vary from person to person. Seeing a therapist helps you to recognize these triggers while finding ways to desensitize yourself to them in the future.
The therapist will likely use one or more types of cognitive behavioral therapy – or behavior modification – in order to decrease the mental strain brought on by these instances. In addition, they’re likely to recommend medications in order to reduce physical effects that are brought on by anxiety, such as cold sweats, shaking, nausea, or headaches.
What to Look for When Finding a Therapist
Nearly any general therapist is equipped to handle most instances of social anxiety disorder but the most severe cases should seek a specialist who has experience in dealing with advanced cases of social phobia. It’s not uncommon for this disorder to be linked to other mental health conditions (in its most severe cases especially) so finding a therapist who specializes in severe social anxiety disorder is often the best course of action. For most, this isn’t necessary.