If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and nervous during a social situation of any kind, it’s possible that you are affected by social anxiety disorder, which is considered to be a kind of phobia. While most individuals will feel shy and nervous on occasion, a social anxiety disorder is much more than that and can lead to the development of numerous symptoms.
While social anxiety disorder can be difficult to handle, there are ways to reduce anxiety. There are also treatment options for you to consider.
What Is a Social Anxiety Disorder?
A social anxiety disorder manifests itself as an intense amount of fear when involved in specific social situations. The symptoms that an affected individual can experience will typically occur in situations that they aren’t familiar with. It’s also common for people to experience this fear when they’re giving a speech or being judged by others in some manner.
Many people who are going through social anxiety disorder will go out of their way and disrupt their lives in order to avoid the social situation that’s causing them stress. The fear of being embarrassed or judged in public can be so great that it causes internal panic.
While some individuals understand that their fears are misplaced, it can seem practically impossible to stop feeling anxiety. Even for those who are affected by social anxiety disorder, learning to be comfortable in various social situations is possible.
What Are the Causes of Social Anxiety?
The causes of social anxiety are numerous, which is why this disorder is common among the general population. While the symptoms of social anxiety are similar among most everyone who experiences this disorder, the causes of the symptoms can differ substantially.
Some individuals will experience social anxiety in almost all social situations that they are in. On the other hand, it’s possible for the anxiety to be more specific to certain social situations. For instance, the anxiety could mainly be triggered when giving a speech in front of an audience or when meeting a stranger. The many different causes of social anxiety include:
- Performing on a stage
- Engaging in public speaking
- Going on a date
- Taking tests or exams
- Drinking or eating in public
- Going into public restrooms
- Making a phone call
- Attending some kind of social gathering
- Being watched when doing something
- Speaking with authority figures
- Talking with strangers
- Making small talk
Even if only a few of these causes trigger social anxiety in you, it’s still important that you seek treatment to help relieve the symptoms of social anxiety. Eventually, you may find that it’s easy to be comfortable in situations that once caused you to feel anxious.
Primary Symptoms of a Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder can cause a wide range of signs and symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. While most people will get nervous right before making a big speech, people with social anxiety may attempt to avoid making the speech or will be anxious about the speech for days or weeks before it’s set to occur.
The symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder can be broken down into physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and behavioral symptoms. The physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- A shortness of breath
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Hot flashes or sweating
- Nausea and an upset stomach
- A tightness in the chest
- A racing heart
- A reddened face
- Shaking or trembling, which can include a shaky voice
As for the emotional symptoms, the top signs and symptoms that you might experience include:
- Extreme worry about an approaching social situation that could manifest itself days, weeks, or months before the situation is set to occur
- High amounts of anxiety in standard social situations that occur almost daily
- Fear that you’ll embarrass yourself
- Fear that you are being judged by other individuals
- Fear that other people will notice that you’re anxious or nervous
When looking at the behavioral signs of a social anxiety disorder, the symptoms that might affect you include:
- Remaining in the background during social situations to avoid embarrassment or being noticed
- Drinking alcohol shortly before a social situation to calm your nerves
- Always needing to have someone with you during a social situation
- Avoiding various social situations in a manner that disrupts your life
Directly Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
If you believe that you are affected by social anxiety disorder, there are numerous things that you can do to overcome the disorder and reduce the symptoms that you experience. The first thing you should focus on doing is to directly challenge the negative thoughts that you have. It’s important to understand that these thoughts only serve to worsen your anxiety.
You might think that your voice will be shaky or that you won’t be able to say anything that’s interesting. Once you identify what your negative thoughts are, you should then be able to analyze these thoughts and eventually challenge them. Ask yourself if these thoughts are actually true and will certainly occur if you attend a social situation.
Control Your Breathing
You should also try to control your breathing in moments when you’re anxious. Anxiety leads to numerous changes throughout the body, the primary of which is that your breathing rate will increase. When you breathe at a rapid rate, the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your body is thrown off, which can lead to additional symptoms, such as an increased heart rate, dizziness, and even a feeling of suffocating.
When you reduce your breathing rate, the physical symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder should begin to dissipate. Try performing some breathing exercises to help you achieve your goal.
Try Not to Focus on Yourself
When you’re involved in any kind of social situation, you will likely start to experience nervous feelings and thoughts, which can make it seem like everyone is paying attention to you and focusing on your flaws. The problem with focusing on your thoughts in these situations is that you will become increasingly aware of the nervous thoughts and feelings you have, which can increase your anxiety even further.
Instead of focusing on yourself, try to focus on the people around you and the things that are happening in your vicinity. Some steps you can take to focus on your surroundings include the following:
- Pay attention to other people without thinking about how they view you.
- Focus on what’s happening presently instead of thinking about the next actions you’ll take or things you’ll do.
- Listen to what people are saying as opposed to the thoughts that you’re having.
- Keep in mind that the anxiety you’re going through likely isn’t as outwardly visible as you believe.
Work on Being More Social
There are things that you can do to be more social and lessen your anxiety. A great way to overcome your anxiety is by constantly challenging it. If you’re affected by social anxiety disorder when meeting new people, go out of your way to introduce yourself to others. Over time, you should become more comfortable in these situations. You can also find social skills classes to take at many community colleges.
Take Steps to Remove Anxiety From Your Life
If you want to lead a life that’s free from anxiety, there are a number of steps that you can take to keep your anxiety at bay. Some lifestyle tips and guidelines that should help you lessen your anxiety include:
- Limiting caffeine. Beverages that contain caffeine will act as stimulants that increase the symptoms of anxiety, which is why you should limit your consumption of caffeine or cut it out of your diet completely.
- Exercising regularly. You should exercise at least 30 minutes per day to effectively reduce the amount of anxiety you feel.
- Drinking only occasionally. While drinking a small amount of alcohol can help calm nerves, high amounts of alcohol consumption can heighten the possibility that you experience an anxiety attack.
- Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. These acids can help your body manage anxiety and can be found in walnuts, seaweed, and fatty fish.
- Stopping smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant that can increase anxiety levels, which is why you should attempt to stop smoking if you experience social anxiety disorder.
- Getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes an individual more susceptible to anxiety, which is why you should try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
Treatment Options Available to You
While a social anxiety disorder can be disabling to a person’s lifestyle, there are many treatment options that can help facilitate a reduction in anxiety. Although the techniques mentioned previously should help you lessen the amount of anxiety that you feel, it’s possible that the disorder is so severe that additional treatments would be necessary.
For instance, therapy is particularly common for social anxiety disorders and is usually centered around cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy aims to help individuals change how they think about various social situations in order to reduce anxiety. There are several components to cognitive behavioral therapy, which extend to:
- Controlling the physical symptoms associated with anxiety via breathing exercises and relaxation techniques
- Performing mock interviews, acting, or videotaping during group therapy
- Attending anxiety-inducing social situations in a structured manner
- Replacing the negative thoughts that bolster social anxiety with balanced views and thoughts
There are also several different types of medications that can help with a social anxiety disorder. While these medications don’t eliminate social anxiety altogether, they can be very effective when combined with the aforementioned self-help techniques. The main medications used for social anxiety treatment include:
- Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines, which are very powerful and can be addictive if you aren’t careful
- Antidepressants, which can assist in reducing the symptoms of severe social anxiety
- Beta-blockers, which are designed to lessen the more notable symptoms of social anxiety, such as sweating and shaking hands
Seeking Treatment Through NFA Behavioral Health
If you are currently affected by social anxiety disorder and are looking at treatment options, one option available to you is the mental health program that’s offered through NFA Behavioral Health. This program includes a complete continuum of care that is centered around addressing the specific needs of each patient.
The mental health program available at NFA is separated into three programs, which include inpatient, dual diagnosis, and residential. At each level, patients will be provided with peer-to-peer workshops, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and mindfulness training. NFA has locations in Canterbury, NH, and Salem, NH.
Social anxiety disorders affect more than 15 million people in the U.S. alone, which means that it’s likely more common than you thought. The symptoms that you experience are the same ones that are felt by many. While these symptoms can be crippling and may even affect your day-to-day life, reducing anxiety is possible for everyone.