Reviewed by Dawn Brown, LPC, NCC
Living with anxiety can seem to be a matter, of course, nowadays;. However, statistics would not quite agree. It can feel as though virtually everyone has had a brush with anxiety severe enough to warrant an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Although anxiety disorders are increasingly well known, there is still a great deal about anxiety that is misunderstood and generally unknown, including the many different types of anxiety disorders that are known and diagnosed. One of the many anxiety disorders that are often misunderstood is Social Anxiety Disorder.
What Is Social Anxiety? Signs And Symptoms
Social Anxiety Disorder is an anxiety disorder with a focus, as its name suggests, on social interactions and corresponding difficulty. While some mistake social awkwardness with having Social Anxiety Disorder, this is not necessarily the case; people with social anxiety may be able to hide their anxiety and will not always display overt symptoms, such as palpable awkwardness in social situations and social aversion. What are the symptoms of social anxiety, then? To qualify for a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, an individual must display, for six months or longer, some of the following symptoms:
- Experience Physical Reactions at the thought or practice of engaging in social situations. Physical reactions can be mild, such as frequent flushing or undue sweating, or severe, and include a racing heart, labored breathing, and nausea.
- Fear Of Speaking. Speaking up in class, giving presentations, and even being called on in work meetings can create intense fear in someone with Social Anxiety Disorder. Fear of speaking may be focused primarily on new people or crowds of people or may include virtually any speech required in social situations.
- Chronic Feelings Of Awkwardness Or Embarrassment. People with social anxiety often feel awkward in social situations and are easily embarrassed. Both of these may be hidden by someone with social anxiety, or it may be visible to everyone nearby, further compounding the feelings.
- Fear Of Judgement. People with social anxiety may have an intense and irrational fear of being judged by others. Fear of judgment can lead to other symptoms, such as avoidance and physical indications of anxiety.
- Avoidant Behavior. Social Anxiety Disorder may be characterized by avoiding social situations as often as possible. While it may not initially seem problematic to avoid going out with friends, social situations can include workplace interactions and even casual interactions at the grocery store. Consequently, the avoidant symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder can be quite debilitating.
- Fear Of Being The Center Of Attention. People with social anxiety often feel intense anxiety when they are the center of attention and may go to great lengths to avoid speaking. They may be known as shy, quiet, or reserved, because they may be highly unlikely to speak out in groups.
To have social anxiety, you do not have to display each and every one of these symptoms. Instead, people with social anxiety might only display 3 symptoms or display all symptoms, but to a much lesser degree. Deciding to reach out for help can be difficult, but it is an important part of seeking health. Taking a social anxiety test can help spur the decision to ask for help, as it provides some assurance that anxiety is likely at play.
Medicines For Social Anxiety
Finding the right medicine for social anxiety typically involves some trial and error. Although anxiety disorders as a whole are frequently treated with anti-anxiety medications, there are some ups and downs to virtually every type of medication, and determining which set of side effects, which dosage, and which type of medicine best suit your needs can take some time. Drugs for social anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These are the most commonly prescribed meds for social anxiety but are certainly not the only options available. Depending on the exact symptoms being displayed and an individual’s response to SSRIs, doctors may also try antidepressants, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. However, beta-blockers and benzodiazepines are typically for concentrated, short-term use and are not considered long-term solutions.
In some cases, social anxiety pills are used as a short-term solution while working on longer-term solutions. Long-term solutions might include psychotherapy, anti-anxiety medications, or anti-depressants, all of which are safer and better suited to use over a longer period of time.
Psychotherapy For Social Anxiety
Psychotherapy is the most frequently used type of treatment for anxiety disorders, including Social Anxiety Disorder. Psychotherapy often includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of talk therapy in which an individual’s unhealthy thought patterns are identified and worked on to create a healthier mindset and a healthier response to stress or triggers. This is the most effective type of psychotherapy for social anxiety, and the best course of action typically involves weekly sessions of 60-90 minutes for 12-16 weeks. Some may see results sooner, while others may see results only after a much longer course of treatment.
Alternative Treatment For Social Anxiety Disorder
Although there may not be a great deal of alternative therapy designed specifically for social anxiety, there are plenty of alternative therapies and treatments for anxiety as a whole, which could be used in conjunction with other treatment options to ease the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder. Support groups often provide a treatment, of sorts, for people with Social Anxiety Disorder, in that they offer a chance to socialize in a safe space, with people who understand the difficulties they face, and a space in which to feel normal after what may be years of feeling isolated and alienated.
Other alternative anxiety treatments often include general lifestyle changes that support overall mental health and general wellness. These include the addition of a gentle exercise routine, a consistently healthy diet, regular access to the outdoors, and even cutting out caffeine and other stimulants that can contribute to anxiety feelings. These are not typically recommended as the sole sources of anxiety treatment but may provide a great supplemental effect on existing anxiety treatments.
How To Cure Social Anxiety
Finding a social anxiety cure is likely a high priority for some, but as is the case with any anxiety disorder, the notion of a “cure” may be somewhat misplaced; someone with an anxiety disorder may always have a predilection toward anxiety symptoms. Although symptoms can be managed and minimized, they may re-emerge in times of great stress. They may require small “tune-ups” throughout an individual’s life, whether that means speaking to a therapist again for a few weeks, going back on medication for a time, or even just evaluating and shifting lifestyle habits.
Although it can be discouraging to hear that there is no real “cure” for social anxiety, take heart: the condition is considered highly treatable, and people who struggle with the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder are very often able to forge close connections and experience substantial relief from symptoms, given plenty of time, dedication to treatment, and consistency in treatment, whether that treatment plan focuses primarily on psychotherapy, includes psychotherapy and medication or includes a cocktail of alternative methods, psychotherapy, and pharmaceuticals.
Living With: Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment And Healing
Social Anxiety Disorder is a difficult disorder to live with. While people who have no experienced symptoms may not quite understand just how many aspects of an individual’s life are impacted by social anxiety, it is a truly pervasive condition. It can negatively impact work, school, relationships, and even daily living. It can discourage someone from getting out and about, paying bills, and behaving appropriately at work and school. Although the effects of Social Anxiety Disorder are substantial, the good news is this: Social Anxiety Disorder is a highly treatable disorder, with a great deal of research and support. Securing treatment as early as possible limits the scope of Social Anxiety Disorder and its overall reach, so asking for help and getting treatment early on can help stop some of the symptoms in their tracks and avoid additional symptoms. Whether you seek out psychotherapy, medication, or travel down every possible healing avenue, Social Anxiety Disorder is often a lifelong disorder, with symptoms that may reappear or re-emerge in times of stress or overwhelm. Consequently, the goal of treatment is not to cure the ailment. Still, it is instead to develop safe, healthy, and consistent management and coping skills to minimize the negative effects of symptoms and create a full, rich, and satisfying life.
Living with social anxiety can feel like a life sentence, but it need not: learning to live with social anxiety is possible. Even when it feels impossible to create meaningful, lasting connections due to perceived failure or a seeming inability to engage with others without fear or distress, many of the behaviors associated with Social Anxiety Disorder are learned and, consequently, can be unlearned or reprogrammed.