Social anxiety disorder is a condition characterized by a permanent state of anxiety with regard to social situations. The social phobia stems from a fear of being judged by other people. People who suffer from this type of anxiety are afraid that others will reject or evaluate them in a negative manner.
Even though this is not a mental illness, it can have a negative impact on the overall quality of life and prevent one from engaging in daily activities. This is why managing social anxiety disorder is key in improving your mental health. Statistics show that 15 million people suffer from social anxiety only in America, this condition being the most common anxiety disorder (after specific phobias).
Facts on social anxiety disorder
The condition can appear during teenage, but years often pass before one is aware of the actual clinical picture. Upon having their personal history reviewed, many people who suffer from social anxiety report extreme shyness during their childhood. Nevertheless, this should not be mistaken as a condition exclusively defined by shyness.
Statistics revealed that less than 5% of those who suffer from social anxiety will seek out treatment in the period following the appearance of the first symptoms. In fact, over a third of those dealing with such problems will delay seeking help, this being a clear proof of their avoidant personality. Paradoxically, those who are socially anxious will recognize that their fears and worries are unfounded, but they will not pursue treatment. (R)
How does social anxiety manifest itself?
As it was already mentioned in the beginning, the social anxiety disorder refers to the presence of anxiety in relation to various social situations. People who are socially anxious will constantly worry about how they will be perceived by others, as well as about their signs of anxiety being detectable. They are those who blush frequently or have difficulties finding their words.
Social anxiety stems from a fear of being wrongly perceived, either with regard to one’s intelligence or personality. In order not to feel awkward, the person in question might refrain from social interactions. In the situation that the situation in question cannot be avoided, one will experience significant distress (fight or flight response activated).
It is important to understand that social anxiety can manifest itself in the form of physical symptoms as well, which can range from mild to severe. One might experience heart palpitations or an increased heart rate, a sensation of nausea and even vomiting, as well as profuse sweating. The inability to escape a feared situation can result in a severe attack, with the person in question feeling powerless. (R)
What causes social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder does not have a specific cause, it is rather a combination of various factors, including biological and environmental. It is more common in those who have a family history of mental health issues, but researchers have drawn attention to the fact that the learned behavior bears a more significant role than the genetic predisposition.
From a physical point of view, it seems that those who have an overactive brain amygdala are more susceptible to social anxiety. This is associated with an excessive fear response, which the person will associate with being in social situations.
Upon being repeatedly exposed to social situations in which one felt embarrassed or uncomfortable, social anxiety might appear as a consequence. This is a learned behavior and it can be addressed through therapy, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Social anxiety is often diagnosed in people with parents who exhibited anxious behavior in social situations, which is clearly also a learned behavior. Moreover, children who have been permanently controlled or overprotected by their parents are at risk of developing such problems in later years. (R)
How is social anxiety disorder diagnosed?
There are no laboratory tests or physical examinations that can guide the diagnosis in this direction. The diagnosis is made in accordance with the criteria established for such mental health disorders. The doctor might also recommend a social anxiety disorder test, such as the mini-social phobia inventory or the Liebowitz social anxiety scale.
In making the diagnosis, the doctor might review one’s medical and family history, as well as ask about life events or various situations that might have contributed to social anxiety. The differential diagnosis can be made with other mental health problems, such as avoidant personality disorder, panic disorder or autism. (R)
Management of social anxiety disorder
Even though there is no actual cure for social anxiety, there are numerous solutions for managing this condition and improving the overall quality of life. What matters is that you are willing to accept that you have a problem, and seek out help.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used as one of the most effective treatments for social anxiety. The techniques employed through this therapy are meant to help you identify negative thought patterns, as well as irrational beliefs and replace these with a realistic view of the world.
The therapist will help you work on negative perceptions and self-esteem, helping you no longer feel embarrassed or stressed in social situations. Thanks to CBT, you will be able to understand that no one is perfect and that social anxiety can be overcome.
As part of your cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, you might also work on role-playing with regard to performance situations. In this way, you will feel less anxious about future social situations. The therapist might decide to help you with social skills training, as this can greatly contribute to the reduction of anxiety.
The social anxiety disorder medication is generally reserved for severe cases when the above-mentioned therapy has failed to work (and if there are associated mental health issues present). Keep in mind that the medication will not work wonders and it is often recommended simultaneously with therapy. Some drugs might cause side-effects or fail to provide the desired results, leading to treatment adjustment.
Antidepressants are commonly prescribed as part of the treatment planning process. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are recommended, with Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft being often advised. Selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, such as Cymbalta and Effexor, might also be prescribed.
Vitamin and herbal supplements are adjuvant to existent therapies and medication. For example, supplements that contain B vitamins or magnesium have been shown to be effective in those who suffer from anxiety. The same goes for supplements containing herbal remedies, such as valerian, lavender or St. John’s wort.
Note: no supplement should be taken without consulting a doctor first. Only a trained professional can determine whether you will benefit from taking the supplement in question or not. (R)
Coping strategies for social anxiety
If you are wondering how to overcome social anxiety disorder, the first step that you need to take is educating yourself on the matter. By reading about social anxiety and what it entails, you will understand what is happening to you and the reasons for which you feel uncomfortable in various socials situations. You will also see that we all have a degree of anxiety, which helps us deal with potentially dangerous situations.
Did you know that you can build a toolbox to help you deal with social anxiety? The first tool to place in your box refers to the observation of the situations in which you feel anxious. This will help you identify potential triggers, such as talking to a new person or starting another job. It will be helpful to note these situations down and, as you will see in the last paragraphs, there is a highly useful app for this purpose. For each situation, jot down the date, symptoms experienced and circumstances using a symptom tracker.
Learning to relax is the second tool that you can use against social anxiety. For this purpose, you can resort to deep breathing; this technique can help you achieve peace of mind and stay grounded. Muscle relaxation is another strategy to consider, one which will help you deal with the physical symptoms of social anxiety.
Another tool that you can put your trust into is realistic thinking. This is something you will also work on during your cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. You will have to work hard in order to replace your negative thought pattern with one that is realistic. By repeatedly enforcing positive thoughts, you will re-wire your brain and feel better overall.
Facing your fear is perhaps one of the most important tools to include in the toolbox. Even though you might always have the tendency to avoid social situations out of fear or embarrassment, avoidance will only make things worse. You might develop unrealistic expectations or irrational beliefs with regard to future situations, suffering distress in the process and turning towards social isolation.
The more you put yourself out there, the easier it will be to overcome your fears and start to feel happy about being in a social environment. You can organize a list of social situations that you fear and be more assertive, seeking them out instead of opting for avoidance. You might also want to refrain from adopting safety behaviors, as these can be just as damaging. The only realistic solution is to face your fears and understand how unfounded these can be. (R)
CareClinic as an app to manage social anxiety disorder
CareClinic is a health app that can be used to manage every aspect related to your social anxiety disorder. Within the application, you can record symptoms caused by social situations and identify potential triggers. Moreover, the application allows you to record the entire treatment/management plan, including various therapies and drugs, as well as self-care measures.
With a user-friendly interface, CareClinic can be used either as an application or mobile version. You can use it to set up reminders for therapy appointments and medication intake. The application comes with a built-in journal, in which you can write your feelings with regard to life with social anxiety. The app generates monthly reports based on your entries, offering a clear perspective over your condition.
Why should you consider intervention for your social anxiety?
A quick look at celebrities who suffer from social anxiety, such as Olivia Munn, Jennifer Lawrence, Barbra Streisand, Britney Spears or Adele, will tell you that avoidance or ignorance is never the solution. Social anxiety can affect not only your life but one of those surrounding you. It will prevent you from dating and engaging in meaningful relationships, so seeking out help is essential.
You should never allow your social anxiety to prevent you from going for a job opportunity or interacting with people. Facing your fears remains the best thing to do, even though it might feel like you are actually dying. Put yourself out there and teach your brain that there is nothing to fear.
Start tracking your anxiety using the CareClinic app to manage your anxiety and to find correlations, click here to start.