According to the Social Anxiety Association, nowadays, social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is the third biggest mental health issue in the world. Also, available data points out that this health problem impacts approximately 7 percent of the world population at any time and what’s more, the risk of developing it at any point in one’s life is something higher than 13 percent.
A person diagnosed with social anxiety is an individual who fears social situations that include interaction with others and this type of anxiety is consisted of chronic fear and anxiousness of negative judgment and evaluation from others. This prevalent disorder triggers fear and anxiety in most areas in one’s life and it is considered chronic as it cannot go away on its own. The only way to address it and eventually overcome it is with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Taking into consideration the increase of people being diagnosed with this specific mental health problem, this article will be focused on increasing the awareness about it by exploring some of its main aspects like potential causes, major symptoms, and available treatments.
The Characteristics of Socially Anxious People
As noted by the Social Anxiety Association, socially anxious people are often described by others as quiet, shy, withdrawn, nervous, unfriendly, and disinterested. However, this is not necessarily the case and very often, individuals with social anxiety are people who want to make friends and be part of social interactions and groups, but their anxiety and fear averts them from doing the things they want to do. Despite how open, sociable, and friendly they may be, their anxiety is what keeps them back.
The Most Common Signs of Social Anxiety
As explained on Mayo Clinic, feeling shy or uncomfortable in specific situations is not always an indicator of social anxiety because of the fact that our comfort levels in social situations tend to vary and are dependent on our traits and experiences in life, i.e. while some people may be more outgoing, others are naturally more reserved. Hence, nervousness and anxiety are considered to be common in some social situations whereas social phobia sufferers tend to face a high level of fear, self-consciousness, embarrassment, and fear during daily interactions.
Let us take a look at the major symptoms in the list below:
• Dreading situations during which one may be judged
• Excessive worry about being embarrassed or humiliated
• Strong fear of interaction or communication with strangers
• Fearing that others will notice your anxiousness
• Fearing symptoms that may lead to embarrassment such as sweating, shaky voice, blushing, etc.
• Not doing things or avoiding speaking to people due to fear of being embarrassed
• Staying away from situations where one may be in the center of attention
• Feeling high level of anxiety and fear of an upcoming activity or an event
• Going through social situations with a strong fear of anxiousness
• Analyzing your flaws and assessing your interactions after a social situation
• Expecting the worst from negative social experiences
In addition to these emotional symptoms, as mentioned on Mayo Clinic, there are also physical ones such as:
• Fast heartbeat
• Upset stomach
• Difficulty breathing
• Tension in the muscles
What Can Trigger Social Anxiety?
The main trigger of social anxiety remains unknown, according to Health Line. But, newest research points out that this type of anxiety disorder is a mixture of genetics and some environmental factors, as well as some negative experiences such as bullying, sexual abuse, family conflict, a physical imbalance, brain structure (an overactive amygdala), family history of social anxiety, learned behavior, growing up with controlling and overprotective parents, etc.
Unfortunately, as emphasized on Mayo Clinic, when not properly addressed and treated, this mental health issue can have detrimental impact on one’s health and well-being and it will interfere with numerous areas of life, including work, school, relationships, and overall enjoyment of life by:
• Decreasing your self-esteem
• Reducing your assertiveness
• Causing negative self-talk
• Increasing your sensitivity to criticism
• Reducing your social skills
• Leading to isolation and poor social relationships
• Lowering academic and employment achievement
• Causing substance abuse or suicide and suicide attempts
When it comes to prevention, it is important to note that there is no method or a way to predict whether a person will develop this social disorder or not; however, there are some useful tips to decrease possible symptoms in case you are anxious.
For example, getting help from early on, pinpointing the major stressors in your life and talking to a mental health professional to address them, learning how to manage your time and energy and focus on priorities in life, and avoiding substance abuse due to the fact that substances like alcohol and drugs are known to make anxiety worse.
What about Treatment Options?
Nowadays, as emphasized by the Social Anxiety Association, anxiety disorders, including social phobia, can be successfully treated with the help of a trained professional. The therapy program for social anxiety is consisted of participating in an active behavioral therapy group which allows patients to work on their anxieties in the group and later on, in real-life situations with other members of the group. Hence, social anxiety can be overcome with the help of the right treatment, dedication, and patience.
Numerous studies point out that individuals with social anxiety disorder change after completing a specific cognitive-behavioral therapy and are able to continue living a life free of anxiety and fear. The therapy helps them improve and change their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behavior with the goal to put an end to the anxiousness and fear. What is required of the patient is to be compliant with the therapist and dedicated to the process.
In addition to the above-mentioned therapy, sometimes, a mental health professional may recommend specific medications, for example, some antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds; however, they have no long-term advantages when they are not use along with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Useful Tips for Social Anxiety Sufferers
According to Uplift Connect, Ellen Hendriksen, a psychologist, argues in her book How to Be Yourself that socially anxious individuals do not fear the judgment by others the most, but are afraid that the judgment may actually be right and that it will reveal their hidden flaws, a process which she refers to as the reveal.
So, she advises socially anxious people to not use avoidance methods to alleviate their social phobia, but try out a different approach such as the following several steps:
• Change your thoughts
For a lot of people, it is their irrational thoughts that cause anxiety; nonetheless, we may not be aware because these thoughts may be deeply ingrained and almost unconscious. Therefore, it is good to name the thought or the actual situation that you think is the culprit for your anxiety so that you can face it easier and in time, be able to switch from negative to positive thoughts about yourself.
• Do not rely on your avoidance strategies
Yes, socially anxious individuals usually have elaborate methods of trying to hide away the reveal during social situations, including rehearsing what they are going to say, staying away from eye contact, practicing deep breathing, or smiling extensively to cover discomfort. However, doing the opposite may actually help; i.e. try and lower your anxiety by pinpointing your exit strategies and letting them go. By doing this, you can be more yourself with others and make them feel more comfortable when they are with you.
• Try self-compassion
Instead of constantly self-criticizing yourself, you need to show more self-compassion so that you can improve your psyche and beat those negative feelings that are common for socially anxious people. But, what does it actually mean to be self-compassionate? According to Uplift Connect, to be self-compassionate, you need to be more mindful and accept your thoughts and feelings and encourage yourself with kind messages like ‘Although I’m scared, everything is going to be okay.’ or accepting that you are a human and that it is okay to feel scared sometimes. Also, self compassion will teach you that social life is a learning process and that practice, rather than perfection, is the ultimate goal.