Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) affects about 15 million American adults. Generally, social anxiety symptoms appear during childhood and teenage years and is typically a result of sexual abuse, bullying and family troubles. Different from general shyness, social anxiety can severely hinder an individual. Social anxiety can make it difficult for those who suffer to hold a job, maintain relationships and make overall fulfilling advancements in life.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety can be defined as the crippling fear of being judged, mocked or rejected by others in daily social situations. Social situations are avoided at all costs, and when they occur, the individual experiences overwhelming feelings of distress and anxiety. Social anxiety sufferers usually know that their feelings of stress are severe and unnecessary, but unfortunately, they are unable to control them.
Social Anxiety vs. Shyness
Different Levels of Fear and Avoidance
Throughout childhood, social behaviors are developed as everyday interactions teach you how to function in the company of others and complete social tasks (e.g. speeches, introducing yourself, holding a conversation, etc).
Social anxiety symptoms and shyness can be differentiated by assessing the intensity of fear experienced, the level of debilitation caused, and how extreme of a method an individual will go to in order to avoid socializing.
Negative Thought Process
Social anxiety affects the brain of an individual and aims thoughts towards negativity. This means that after a social interaction, the overall view of self-performance is negative. Even if the interaction was positive, the individual will be overly self-critical and worry about the encounter for hours afterward. Additionally, the individual with the social anxiety disorder will always negatively assess themselves in any social situation in which they participate.
Typically, social anxiety symptoms are more than a person being shy and have flushed cheeks. It’s not just playing with your thumbs when you are nervous speaking to someone. It’s losing hours of sleep over worry and making choices to avoid events or opportunities that require an element of socializing.
An individual with social anxiety will have trouble participating in a daily routine because the fear of socializing is so intense. Job performance and the ability to get a job will suffer. Attending school is difficult. And other social activities are unbearable.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Normal feelings of shyness and nervousness when experiencing something new is natural. One bout of nerves does not count as social anxiety disorder. Also, it is normal that, “comfort levels in social situations vary, depending on personality traits and life experiences. Some people are naturally reserved and others are more outgoing.” Take a look at some social anxiety symptoms that may give you a better understanding and clarification of the disorder.
Nausea/upset stomach during a social event
Racing heart while interacting with others
Feel like you’re going to faint/lightheadedness
Cannot make eye contact
Shaking, trembling hands
Many of these symptoms are characterized by severe discomfort or anxiety when in the midst of social situations. These symptoms are debilitating and physically make you unable to participate fully in social environments. Next, here are some social anxiety symptoms that are not always physical, but more so psychological, worries in the head.
Inability to keep a job because of attendance, the individual gets anxious therefore calls out/skips work
Unable to get a new job because social anxiety hinders the ability to attend a job interview
Failing school because of attendance, too nervous to go
Fear that other people will notice signs of social anxiety (sweating, blushing, shaking)
Avoids being the center of attention
Does not speak to people or try something new out of fear of embarrassment
Worries over social interactions hours after they have occurred
Judges self over what was said/done, self-sabotages
Losing sleep over worrying about an approaching social event
Avoids attending parties and other gatherings
Nervous eating in front of others for fear of judgment
Making choices out of fear, not according to actual wants and preferences
Nervous while making phone calls
Prolonged social avoidance can lead an individual to isolate themselves, thus creating circumstances for depression. It is important to seek help if these social anxiety symptoms are experienced, as they can worsen over time and lead to serious mental health issues.
How is Social Anxiety Diagnosed?
There is no definitive test that an individual can take to determine if they are suffering from social anxiety. Instead, a health care provider will usually discuss symptoms and perform a physical exam.
First, your healthcare provider will most likely determine if any medications or previous medical conditions could be causing social anxiety symptoms to occur. Then, they will discuss your symptoms and see if they are parallel to social anxiety symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also read you a list of situations, and ask you how you would react in them. By assessing your answers, they can come to the conclusion that social anxiety disorder is the case.
Common Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder
The main way that treating social anxiety is approached is by prescribing therapy. This consists of talking with a therapist, who teaches the individual to understand that thought processes can be controlled with dedication and perseverance.
Talk therapy focuses on the development of mental strength and control that can ease nerves and racing thoughts. Additionally, therapists will teach social skills that help gain confidence so that the individual can become more comfortable in social situations.
Another common treatment to ease social anxiety symptoms is medication. Social anxiety medications work to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, which is a chemical that affects the mood.
Although these drugs bring results, they can be habit-forming and inhibit the body’s natural production of serotonin when no longer taking the medication. This means that the body will become reliant on them. Medications can also have side effects that can be frustrating, such as insomnia and changes in appetite (leading to weight gain/loss).
Generally, it will take a couple tries to find a medication that is beneficial and has the least amount of side-effects. Each person’s body and mind react differently. If one medication doesn’t work, you may need to switch to a different medication. Discuss options with your healthcare provider to find the right medication that works for you.
There are also natural remedies to treat social anxiety and other types of anxiety disorders. A herbal supplement that has been shown to increase body’s resistance to stress is Rhodiola Rosea, which is a plant native to Europe and Asia.
As with medications, it takes trial and error to find what remedies work for you. ALWAYS speak to a healthcare provider before you start taking any natural remedy, as some natural remedies can increase blood pressure and as well as cause allergic reactions.
11 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
Although social anxiety symptoms can make daily life difficult, there are many ways to beat this mental health disorder. With proper care, diligence and awareness in everyday life, social anxiety can be a thing of the past. Here are a few ways to overcome social anxiety and gain confidence in everyday life.
Start by seeing a therapist.
It always helps to speak with a professional when you are beginning your overcoming process. They can provide you with insight as to why you are feeling this way and guide you in the right direction. Therapy doesn’t have to last forever; once you have gained knowledge from them, you can use those tools given to implement treatment in your life for the long-term.
Read a self-help book/manual.
Like seeing a therapist, self-help manuals are usually written by doctors that can provide professional advice. It can also help that whenever there is a rough period of social anxiety symptoms, you can refer back to the book and recall the advice exactly. Self-help books can provide relatable advice and uplifting messages that will provide you with the motivation to gain confidence.
When any type of anxiety is occurring, it can be tough to find a sense of self-purpose. Racing and anxious thoughts greatly cloud the mind and leave little room for thoughts of self-improvement. However, when you are struggling with social anxiety, it is beneficial to set goals for yourself. Set short-term and long-term goals, and then you can measure your success rather than always assuming yourself as a failure.
Cultivate positive thoughts.
Social anxiety symptoms often bring overwhelming thoughts of self-doubt. When you give into these thoughts, they become a habit and you will train your brain to believe your self-sabotaging thoughts. Instead, be kind to yourself. Tell yourself “I did my best in that situation, I did all I could possibly do,” rather than “I’m such a failure, why didn’t I do/say…” These negative thoughts will only make your anxiety worse. Wake up every day with the intention to be patient with yourself, you are only human.
Label your thoughts.
When you are in an uncomfortable/fearsome situation, bring your awareness to it. Let yourself know, “I am feeling uncomfortable, I am nervous.” Thoughts are scary because we think they are automatically reality. Our thoughts tell us we are scared and nervous, but when you grab a hold of your thoughts and recognize them, they no longer have power over you. Notice the thought, assess why you are thinking it, and let it go. Labeling a thought is powerful because, “By naming it, you’re shifting gears in your brain. It’s no longer an overwhelming feeling from your emotional amygdala anymore; now that it has a label your prefrontal cortex takes the reins.”
Get out of your own head.
Racing thoughts, nerves, worrying what people will think of you–this is all in your own head. All you are thinking about is yourself. Focus on other people and listen to what they have to say.
Remember that everyone is self-conscious.
Generally, people are not worried about how you performed a casual conversation after its over. In reality, people are more concerned with their lives and performances. That time you stuttered over a few words while talking with someone? That person is already home cooking dinner with their family, worried about what they have to do tomorrow. Your conversation is long forgotten.
Imagine the worst-case scenario.
This will give you a reality check and seriously calm your social anxiety symptoms. If you blush or stumble over your words, is someone really going to laugh at you? Is your life going to change dramatically? The answer is no. No need to worry!
Exercising releases mood-boosting endorphins, which will make you feel on top of the world! Also, exercise boosts confidence as you feel yourself getting stronger, and it is a healthy way to get your blood flowing.
Practice your social skills.
As cheesy as it sounds, it works! Nervous about meeting someone new? Look up some friendly introductions and conversation starters.
Get yourself out there.
This goes along with practicing your social skills. If you are out socializing with people, you may feel uncomfortable, but this means you are growing. Listening to people’s stories and observing how they behave in conversations can teach you a lot about interacting.
Social anxiety can be tough to overcome, but it is very treatable when an active effort is made. Social situations are a part of everyday life, and it’s necessary for mental health and healthy social function to interact and connect with the world. There are plenty of people that want to help, and resources that can be accessed by an individual with social anxiety symptoms. Remember, you’re not alone!