Social Anxiety (previously referred to as social phobia) is a common mental health condition that affects around 7.1% of US adults. If you’re struggling with social anxiety, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, around 15 million other Americans are struggling with the same mental health issues.
The good news is that with some help from a mental health professional, you can learn to manage social anxiety and—in some cases—even overcome social anxiety. Before we look at how to manage social anxiety, let’s first clarify what it is.
What is social anxiety disorder?
The term social anxiety is often used flippantly to describe feelings of shyness or self-consciousness in social situations. However, for those who suffer from social anxiety disorder, it is an intense fear which can get in the way of daily life and significantly impact their emotional well-being.
Those with social anxiety disorder struggle with social events and worry that they will be scrutinized, ridiculed, or judged by others. From one-on-one social interactions such as dates to situations where they have to stand up and talk in front of others and be the center of attention, the fear and anxiety can be crippling.
Some situations that can be difficult for those struggling with social anxiety disorder include:
- Public speaking
- Eating in public
- Meeting new people
- Job interviews
- Talking to staff at stores or restaurants
- Answering questions in a classroom setting
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
There are both emotional and physical symptoms of social anxiety that can include:
- Blushing, sweating, or trembling
- An increased or rapid heart rate
- Upset stomach or feelings of nausea
- Muscle tension
- Mind blanks
- Having trouble with basic social skills such as maintaining eye contact
- Avoiding certain places and social situations
- Intense fear of interacting with strangers
- Negative thoughts and expecting the worst out of social interactions
- Fear of embarrassment or humiliation
In order for an official diagnosis to be made, the fear and anxiety must be present for at least six months. They must significantly affect one’s behaviors and ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
Treatment options and coping strategies for social anxiety disorder
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider. Self-help can be great in the right circumstances, but it’s also important to seek professional help to make sure that you are getting the right treatment. Everybody is different and a psychiatry expert will be able to help you navigate the various treatment options, medication, and coping techniques to find the right strategy for you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety
The most common treatment for social anxiety disorder is a type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This involves a range of techniques including Exposure Therapy and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Together, these techniques and therapies teach different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to difficult situations. This kind of therapy also helps patients to practice various social skills and can be delivered in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis.
Medication for social anxiety disorder
As we’ve already mentioned, everybody is a little bit different. Some people who suffer from social anxiety disorder may respond well to therapy whereas others might need a combination of therapy and medication. Again, a mental health professional will be able to help you to understand the best course of action for you, so it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider before trying any new medication for anxiety.
Antidepressants are a common form of medication for social anxiety disorder. These can include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Other common medications for anxiety can include:
As scientific research continues to explore various medications, other types of medication are being used to treat anxiety disorders. Your doctor or healthcare provider can guide you through the latest information and advise you on the best type of medication for you.
Coping techniques for social anxiety
The best way to overcome social anxiety is by getting professional help. However, there are also a number of other things you can do by yourself to manage and minimize your social anxiety symptoms.
Some useful coping strategies and relaxation techniques for social anxiety include:
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Light exercise (even walking around the block or stretching for 5 minutes can help)
- Muscle relaxation exercises
- Writing your thoughts down
- Challenging negative thoughts (try thinking, “What advice would I give a friend if they felt this way?”)
Not everyone will find every single one of these techniques useful. Some might find deep breathing to be effective whereas others might prefer to write down their thoughts and fears. Some might find that a combination of a few things is best for them.
The important thing is to try different techniques and find what works. Don’t overwhelm yourself by doing everything all at once—take small steps and find the right solution for you.
How to make friends with social anxiety?
Whether you’re starting a new job, moving to a new city, or starting at a new school, it can be hard to make new friends when you’re struggling with social anxiety. There’s no magic fix for this, unfortunately. In order to meet new people, you will have to face your fears on some level.
However, there are some things you can do to make the journey a little bit easier. Some top tips for making new friends include:
- Start small (even if it’s just waving at a neighbor) and work up to bigger social events
- Practice your social skills (even if it’s in front of a mirror, or with family and friends)
- Memorize a handy list of small talk topics to put your mind at ease
- Prioritize settings where you have things in common with others (join a sports team or book club etc)
- Join local support groups for social anxiety
Being open about your social anxiety could also prove helpful. When people know that you struggle with certain situations, they might be a bit more understanding and try to accommodate you wherever possible.
Struggling with social anxiety? Get in touch with your healthcare provider today
If social situations cause you intense fear, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Millions of other Americans are dealing with social anxiety disorder and there are plenty of treatment options that can help you to manage and minimize the symptoms.
If you think that you or a loved one might be struggling with social anxiety disorder, make an appointment with the Babylon healthcare team today. We’re here to help.
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness#:~:text=A%20person%20with%20social%20anxiety,a%20cashier%20in%20a%20store
- Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
- American Psychiatric Association Publishing https://focus.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/foc.9.3.foc273
- JED https://jedfoundation.org/resource/understanding-anxiety-disorders/