Do you ever limit your social interactions out of fear that people will stare at and judge you? Are thoughts of socializing making you all sweaty and nervous? People with social anxiety would instantly say yes to these questions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 12% of the adults in the U.S. reported having social anxiety, and some started to experience signs during childhood and mid-teen years.
Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear of being negatively evaluated by people in public places or during interactions. Even talking to friends, making eye contact, eating in a cafeteria, or reporting in class are so stressful that one cannot function well.
People who suffer from social anxiety have nothing to be ashamed of and must be encouraged to engage in ways that will improve their mental health condition. There are various ways on how to cope with social anxiety, such as practicing self-help techniques, seeking psychotherapy, and taking medications. If you are living with social anxiety or know someone who does, this might be a great read to understand more about it.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety
It is usual for many of us to feel shy whenever we encounter our “firsts” in life, such as our first day at school or work, first date, first meeting, first presentation, and the like. We usually adapt to new situations, and the shyness we feel eventually fades as time goes by. However, this is not the case for people with social anxiety. It is usually a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral discomfort. Let’s take a look at its common signs and symptoms.
- Having palpitations, sweating, upset stomach or nausea, muscle tension, and dizziness when in social situations.
- Fear of humiliation in front of others.
- Feeling anxious in public places, such as when using public transportation, eating in a restaurant, entering a room where people are already seated, or using a public restroom.
- Avoidance of situations where you might be the center of attention, such as performing or giving a speech.
- Intense fear of social interaction, like having a conversation, making eye contact, talking to unfamiliar people, or even meeting with family and friends.
- Avoidance of attending parties, reunions, conferences, and team-building activities.
- For children, such fear or anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, hiding, or failing to speak in social situations.
While it’s essential to know the signs mentioned above and the symptoms of social anxiety, it’s also vital to understand its underlying causes. It leaves us the question, “Why do people with social anxiety behave the way they do?”
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Biological factors. Like any other condition, biological and environmental factors play a role in developing social anxiety. For example, individuals with family members with social anxiety are more likely to acquire it.
Brain structure. Social anxiety is also linked to the amygdala, which is responsible for the fear response. A person with an overactive amygdala is said to have a heightened fear response that causes increased anxiety in social situations.
Negative experiences. Negative experiences such as abuse and bullying from childhood often lead to social anxiety. In addition, children who have overprotective, authoritative, or controlling parents are more likely to have such conditions.
Temperaments. A reserved and timid child is more likely to be aloof in social situations in later stages of life.
How to Cope With Social Anxiety With Self-Help
We can all agree that for us to receive help, we should help ourselves first in some way. So here are some practical self-help tips on how to cope with social anxiety.
Plan ahead. Prepare things ahead of time, such as what to wear, what to bring, or what to talk about when you get asked in a conversation. You can even arrive earlier at the meeting place, so you get to meet the others one by one. Doing this will reduce your social anxiety at a party instead of arriving unprepared in an area already full of people.
Relaxation techniques. Taking a deep breath is one thing you can easily do when fear and anxiety strikes. Breathe in slowly through your nose, hold your breath, and then slowly let it out through your mouth. Repeat the steps several times until you feel better. According to studies, doing regular yoga can also lower overall anxiety.
Avoid unhealthy vices. Alcohol and drug use are proven to have adverse effects on our health. Substances like nicotine or caffeine can cause or worsen anxiety, so it’s a wise move to avoid them. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a good amount of sleep will also help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. In addition, it will help you feel energized and productive during the day, which helps reduce social anxiety at school or work.
How to Cope With Social Anxiety With Medication
While there are many ways how to cope with social anxiety using effective self-help techniques, it might worsen over time if left untreated. Taking medication to treat psychological problems is the right thing to do and is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just like seeking prescriptions to treat any physical illness.
Seeking treatment from a trusted mental health provider will help assess your anxiety and give you prescriptions to either reduce your symptoms or even eliminate them. Since lower serotonin levels have been linked to anxiety, prescribed medications will help increase your serotonin levels. Antidepressants also help prevent panic attacks. However, its effectiveness varies for everyone, so it’s better to be patient until you find what works for you.
The mental health professional will also provide you with all the information you need, which will help you outweigh the advantages and disadvantages of the prescriptions and the duration of your treatment. You may also opt to take psychotherapy with a licensed therapist to improve your condition.
How to Cope With Social Anxiety With Therapy
In psychotherapy, you will learn techniques on how to cope with social anxiety with the help of a licensed therapist. Depending on your present need, it is usually composed of a few to several sessions. According to studies, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the one that works best for individuals with social anxiety disorder. The therapist’s role is to help clients explore and modify dysfunctional beliefs to change behavior. This approach usually includes the following techniques:
Role-playing. This technique allows clients to rehearse certain behaviors to bring out what they feel in a specific situation. For example, if you fear speaking in front of others, you will act as if you are presenting in a meeting, which will bring out your irrational beliefs and intense feelings about the situation. The therapist will then interrupt to change unhealthy feelings to healthy ones to improve your anxious behavior in social interactions.
Shame-attacking exercises. This technique aims to help people reduce shame and anxiety over behaving in specific ways. For example, if you’re a person with social anxiety in public, you may be asked to wear colorful clothing when going to a grocery store. Thinking that you will be stared at and judged, you will likely find out that people are not that interested in your behavior; therefore, you’ll see that such feelings of humiliation are just self-created.
Disputing irrational beliefs and doing cognitive homework. These techniques will help you learn how to challenge irrational thoughts and replace them with rational ones. Phrases like, “If I am not liked, that would be awful” will turn into, “It’s not nice to be liked, but not everybody has to like me, and if they don’t, it isn’t the end of the world.” Changing the way you think will eventually reduce anxiety in the long run.
Various studies have shown the effectiveness of medication and psychotherapy combined. Nowadays, online therapy is one of the best avenues in helping people find ways how to cope with social anxiety.
Can Online Therapy Help?
Different services across the globe have transitioned to online platforms, including teleconsultation and online counseling. However, it is almost impossible for some to leave their home due to the pandemic, and the fear of getting infected adds up to one's anxiety problems. For this reason, online therapy is made available to address the specific needs of individuals who wish to have a mental health professional who will help them learn ways on how to cope with social anxiety.
Online counseling is more affordable than traditional therapy sessions in a clinic since you don’t have to pay for any miscellaneous fees and hidden charges. Though the cost is comparably lower, the quality of online therapy sessions is not compromised.
Seeking psychotherapy is also quite challenging if you don’t know any licensed therapist in your area. With online therapy sites, several licensed therapists can help you, even those that are miles away from your location. Having the sessions at home also allows you to control your environment fully. Before starting your therapy, you can decide about your setups, such as room temperature, seating, and lighting. Being comfortable will help lessen your anxiety and help you be focused throughout the counseling session.
Putting an End to Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is stressful, yet we learned that you could overcome it through different self-help techniques, medication, and therapy. Keep in mind that Your social anxiety does not define who you are, and help is always available. All you need is the courage to speak up and the commitment to keep going. Trusted online therapy sites are happy to assist you on your mental health journey.