What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety – also called social phobia, or social anxiety disorder – is a paralyzing and debilitating condition. Those affected with social anxiety often feel uncomfortable in large social gatherings, or small settings with people who are unfamiliar –anyplace out of their comfort zone creates anxiety for them. This often manifested with a fear of embarrassment, becomes so intense that those afflicted with the condition often withdraw from situations that may cause them to be embarrassed. This has the person with social anxiety feeling isolated and alone. Trapped in their comfort zone, not feeling like they can muster the strength to put themselves in situations that make them feel anxious.
More severe cases of social anxiety leave those suffering with a feeling as if they are being watched or scrutinized by other people. Even a trip to the mall might become unbearable for fear that they are being watched, talked about, or judged by random people who are often oblivious to their existence. While most people with social anxiety realize that this fear is irrational, they can’t help feeling anxious when confronted with situations that feel uncomfortable to them. Most the time they surrender to their anxiety and start to avoid any and all situations that make them uncomfortable. In the long run, instead of this decreasing a person’s anxiety it exasperates it, allowing the anxiety to control their lives.
For some, this fear only exists in very specific 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. Leaving a person with social anxiety very limited places that they feel comfortable and confident in.
Most adults experience some form of social anxiety, but the severity at which some experience the anxiety and the crippling effect it has is what classifies it as a disorder.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Some possible signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder are:
- Fear of going places that you will be judged
- Constantly worrying that you will embarrass yourself
- Fear of speaking with strangers
- Nervous that others will notice that you are anxious
- Fear that you will blush, sweat, or stubble on your words in public
- Avoid people and situations in fear that you will be embarrassing
- Avoid being the center of attention
- Thinking about an activity in advance and being anxious about it
- Analyzing yourself and how you acted in social situations afterward
- Always thinking the worst after a social interaction
Possible Physical Symptoms:
Physical symptoms that can accompany social anxiety disorder, as shown on mayo clinic, are:
- Fast heartbeat
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Trouble catching your breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling that your mind has gone blank
- Muscle tension
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. However, with proper therapy and a treatment plan catered to your specific anxiety triggers, most people 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 deal with those who suffer from social anxiety. Every person 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. This will allow you to better deal with and manage your anxiety on a daily basis.
Your 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 anxiety. In addition, they’re likely to recommend medications in order to reduce the physical effects 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 with the most severe cases, you 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 social anxiety disorder is often the best course of action. Know that you are not alone and it is perfectly normal to get anxious in certain social situations, however, if your anxiety is so severe that it is harming your quality of life, it’s time to get help and find a therapist in the TherapyTribe Directory.
- Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP ( 2018, Feb). What’s to know about social anxiety disorder? Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/176891.php
- Noone, R.J. and Papero, D.V. (2015). The Family Emotional System: An Integrative Concept for Theory, Science, and Practice. Lexington Books, Maryland.
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org.
- AskMayoExpert (2017). Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561