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Explaining Social Anxiety

coping with social anxiety

Are you constantly preoccupied with being judged by others?

Are you often self-conscious in everyday social situations?

Do you tend to avoid meeting new people?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be one of the 18% of Americans that experiences social anxiety. It’s true that humans are “social” creatures but a majority of us feel uncomfortable or awkward in certain situations such as being the center of attention during a speech or meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time. These are situations in which we may be judged so it is only natural to feel a little self conscious.

For the majority of people, time and experience alleviates these feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness and they don’t hold us back from experiencing everyday life. For a small number of people, these intrusive thoughts of anxiety and inadequacy about social situations can stand in the way of having healthy and fulfilling relationships and quality of life. This is what is known as social anxiety.

If you feel an overwhelming sense of stress in social situations, or if you’re constantly preoccupied with how others feel about you, this article will provide you with some tips for coping with your social anxiety.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect all aspects of a person’s life, from work to school and other day-to-day activities. It can even make it very difficult to make friends or maintain relationships.

People with social anxiety have a negatively skewed sense of self-perception. Often these people are constantly preoccupied with embarrassing or humiliating themselves. They may tend to see themselves as strange, stupid, ugly, flawed, or unworthy in some way. This worry can manifest itself in any number of physical ways, leading to the person being self-conscious about physical signs of social anxiety such as sweating, blushing, or trembling.

People with social anxiety tend to feel incredibly stressed in situations where they may face judgment from other people. Social anxiety tends to be magnified when these situations are one-on-one encounters. Some of these scenarios may include objectively stressful situations like job interviews, first dates, and public speeches but they may also include everyday situations such as trips to the store, haircuts, and eating in public.

Someone with social anxiety may be so preoccupied with the way that others think about them that they may miss out on important opportunities and relationships. They may also have trouble with communicating their needs and saying no to people. This stems from their social anxiety telling them to avoid being a burden at all costs. As a result of all these negative aspects, social anxiety can impact a person’s confidence, self-esteem, and psychological well-being.

What Are the Signs of Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety can manifest itself in any number of ways that affect all aspects of a person’s life.  All of these can fall into three categories: physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, and behavioral symptoms.

Physical symptoms are the most easily recognizable from a stranger’s perspective and can lead to a negative symptom loop for a person with social anxiety. For example, a person may be sweating or blushing when meeting their new boss for the first time. That same person may realize they’re sweating or blushing and worry about whether their new boss can notice these symptoms as well, leading to even more sweating and blushing.

Additional Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Psychological symptoms are a bit harder to identify from an outsider’s perspective but they can shape every behavior and interaction of a person with social anxiety. A major component of these psychological symptoms is worrying about social situations in advance and also ruminating about social situations after they occur. Are you seeing a common theme? Negative behavioral and psychological loops are very common in people who experience social anxiety.

These preoccupations can lead to low self-esteem and negative or self-critical thinking. 

Both physical and psychological symptoms can lead to behavioral symptoms as well. For example, in order to hide sweating, a person with social anxiety may only wear dark clothes. A person may also meticulously plan what they’ll do or say in social situations far in advance and in an almost obsessive manner. Many people who suffer from social anxiety may also avoid social situations altogether or only engage in new situations if accompanied by a trusted companion.

In many more extreme cases, a person suffering from social anxiety may self-medicate in order to cope with the stresses of social anxiety. They believe that drugs or alcohol give them the confidence or numbness that they need to ignore the negative effects of social anxiety.

If you or a loved one are facing issues with self-medication, SUN Behavioral is here to help.

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Like many complex psychological issues, social anxiety has no single definitive cause. It originates from a cocktail of different factors such as genetics, personality traits, and early life experiences.

social anxiety disorderResearch has suggested that there may be a genetic predisposition for social anxiety. While no specific set of genes has been identified to cause social anxiety, it does seem to run in families.If you have a family member with social anxiety, it is more likely that you will experience some of the same hardships as well. This could be a combination of learned behaviors and genetics. 

Early life experiences can have huge positive and negative impacts on a person’s future psychological self. There are many factors in early childhood that can have an effect on a child’s confidence. This can come from overbearing or overcritical parenting, bullying, or exclusion from important early social groups. These are not the only causes of social anxiety as it can also develop in people that had no significant negative experience growing up.

Personality factors can be a huge contributor to social anxiety as well. Social anxiety is seen more commonly in people who are shy or introverted. If a person is a perfectionist, self-critical, or a “worrier,” they may also experience some degree of social anxiety.

The impact of life stressors can also affect social anxiety. Significant life changes, both positive and negative, can have a huge impact on self-confidence. This may include starting a new job, having a child, getting married, or experiencing a traumatic event.

Tip for Coping With Social Anxiety

There are three major approaches to dealing with social anxiety: psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication.

Psychoeducation

By reading this article, you’ve already begun your journey towards a life without social anxiety. Psychoeducation refers to educating yourself about what social anxiety is, how it develops, and how it’s maintained. By gaining a greater understanding of this affliction, you can take control of your anxiety. This leads to reduced feelings of fear and helplessness and a boosted sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. Educating friends and family about this condition can also help them offer support and guidance. Education is key.

If you suffer from social anxiety, here are some key bits of information to always keep in mind:

  • Social anxiety is a common disorder.
  • It is not a sign of weakness or fault.
  • Social anxiety disorder is treatable.
  • Recovery is the rule, not the exception.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a highly effective treatment for social anxiety when used alone or in conjunction with medication. CBT involves learning skills to combat the negative and self-critical thoughts that people with social anxiety face. It can also help you to manage the emotions of fear and shame that come with social anxiety leading to a greater sense of self-confidence.

CBT can also help you to regain skills and re-engage in activities that you may have quit due to social anxiety.

Medication for Social Anxiety

Some antidepressant medications can provide great benefits to some people who suffer from social anxiety. These medications are typically only reserved for people with severe social anxiety and are also most effective when administered alongside cognitive behavioral therapy. Some general guidelines to follow when taking these medications is:

  • Only take medications as prescribed.
  • Do not stop taking these medications unless told to do so by your healthcare professional.
  • Side effects should lessen as your body adjusts to the medication. If the side effects don’t diminish, or are unbearable, consult your healthcare professional.
  • Don’t stop the medication when you think you feel better as your symptoms may return.

Managing Symptoms of Social Anxiety

While the strategies above are your best bet when it comes to long-term solutions, there are everyday things you can do to alleviate some of the immediate symptoms of social anxiety. These are techniques that anyone can use when facing tough social situations.

Deep Breathing/Mindfulness

Deep breathing exercises have been used to alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety since the dawn of civilization. The effectiveness of these techniques is the key to their longevity.

  • Breathe in through your nose for three seconds, and out for at least three seconds.
  • As you breathe, focus your breath. Notice how the air fills your lungs and how it feels in your nose, throat, chest, and stomach.
  • As you exhale,be aware of any tension leaving your body.
  • Repeat this process for at least tgree minutes.

Physical Exercise

Physical exercise can help reduce any anxiety you may be feeling and it may also boost your mood, confidence, and self-esteem.

  • Start by engaging in at least 30 minutes of cardio-focused exercise at least three times a week.
  • Focus on exercises that get your heart rate up.
  • Start small and build your way up. It will get easier every day but the hard part is doing it every day.
  • Create a playlist of your favorite “feel good” music to help complement your new workout routine.

Coping With Negative Thoughts and Emotions in Social Settings

This may sound easier said than done but little changes every day can help you conquer social anxiety and be the best version of yourself.

  • Make a list of things that you admire about yourself. To do this, you may call upon a trusted friend or loved one. Carry this list with you as a reminder of your self-worth when negative and anxious thoughts creep in.
  • Celebrate the small victories by keeping a running list of situations that you coped with better than you expected. This will help when you find yourself worrying about conquering social situations.
  • Keep a daily record of all the small nice or interesting things that happened to you and share them with friends and family when you get the chance.

Social Anxiety FAQs:

How can I get rid of social anxiety fast?

While it may be impossible to instantly negate the symptoms of social anxiety, there are techniques you can use to cope with them. You can start by practicing deep breathing exercises and engaging in a more active lifestyle. You can also keep an ongoing list of life’s daily victories to remind yourself of your worth when social anxiety shows its ugly head.

How do people cope with social anxiety?

People with social anxiety may cope with the disorder by seeking a better understanding of why social anxiety occurs. This is called psychoeducation. Others may benefit greatly from seeking professional help using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication.

To deal with individual symptoms of social anxiety, a person can practice deep breathing exercises and engage in a more active lifestyle. Keeping an ongoing list of life’s daily victories can also help to boost self-esteem.

Can you self treat social anxiety?

There are certain techniques that a person can use to treat social anxiety on their own. This includes practicing deep breathing exercises, engaging in a more active lifestyle, and keeping a running list of life’s daily victories to reaffirm self-worth.

When these techniques aren’t enough, it may be time to seek guidance from a mental health professional.

What is the best cure for social anxiety?

While there is no “cure” for social anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown to be the most effective technique in treating social anxiety. CBT is often used in tandem with anti-anxiety medication to provide the most positive outcomes.

Consult a mental healthcare professional to get started on your battle against social anxiety.

Get Help Coping With Social Anxiety

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, conquering your negative thoughts and social anxiety can be an ongoing process. A successful life is built on a foundation of small victories and the talented healthcare professionals at SUN Behavioral Delaware are here to help you be the best version of yourself.

Click here to learn more about our social anxiety treatment program.

Call us today at 302-604-5600 to speak confidentially with one of our compassionate mental health professionals.

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