Have you ever dreaded the idea of being around others, or – even worse – talking in front of a group of people? Most people sometimes feel nervous about the prospect of meeting new people, presenting in front of a public, or approaching strangers on the street. However, when this nervousness gets out of control and impairs your quality of life and interpersonal relationships, you might suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD).
As serious as this might sound, social anxiety disorder is more common than you think. In the U.S., an estimated 7.1% of adults struggle with this disorder, with women being at a higher risk. Fortunately, social anxiety disorder is a treatable condition, with therapy being the most common and effective treatment approach.
Thanks to the virtual world, anyone can now seek social anxiety disorder treatment through online therapy. In this article, you can read more information about SAD and how therapy can help you manage and treat this condition.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
It can be tricky to figure out whether your nervousness around people is normal or there’s a clinical diagnosis that causes it. You may suffer from social anxiety disorder if you can relate to some or all of these symptoms:
Excessive worrying about social situations
Worrying is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety. In social anxiety disorder, worrying is often disproportionate to the events that trigger it, causing many people to imagine worst-case scenarios about being around others.
Someone with SAD might be afraid of saying or doing something inappropriate around others, which causes them to retreat from social situations.
Difficulties being around other people
While they might sound like banal things, eating, walking, or doing activities with other people can feel terrifying to someone with social anxiety disorder. Excessive anxiety makes vulnerable individuals worry about being watched or judged by others. As a consequence of this, people with SAD might completely avoid group activities or situations where they are observed by people.
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Avoiding situations that may trigger social anxiety
Someone suffering from social anxiety disorder might entirely steer clear of situations, events, and places that trigger their symptoms. For example, events like parties, birthdays, company gatherings, large meetings, and many others can feel so terrifying for someone that they avoid them at all costs.
Anxiety makes people unable to rationalize why exactly they are afraid of these triggers. For this reason, it is not uncommon for someone with SAD to compromise their social life due to the irrational fears that this disorder entails.
Conditions Related to Social Anxiety Disorder
Although SAD is a type of anxiety in itself, we should also note that this disorder can manifest alongside other symptoms of anxiety. In the paragraphs below, you can read more on other related conditions that manifest with social anxiety disorder.
This disorder often occurs with general anxiety disorder symptoms and manifests as an intense fear of being trapped in situations or places that cannot be escaped. The fear might also relate to a particular situation, such as using public transport or being in closed or open spaces. Although agoraphobia is a separate condition from social anxiety disorder, it can be diagnosed alongside it.
Avoidant personality disorder
Although not a type of anxiety in itself, avoidant personality disorder manifests in a similar fashion to SAD, but often to a more intense degree. People diagnosed with this personality disorder might also display social anxiety disorder symptoms due to their fear of being around people.
Many individuals diagnosed with SAD can display frequent panic attacks, especially in situations that act as an active trigger. This is why a comorbid diagnosis of panic disorder is not uncommon among those who suffer from SAD. Panic disorder entails frequent panic attacks that occur out of the blue and significantly affect one’s mental health.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is often caused by a combination of social, biological, genetic, and psycho-emotional factors. It should be mentioned right out of the gate that all anxiety disorders are highly complex and often have multiple underlying causes, which is also the case with social anxiety disorder.
The most common causes that have been identified by existing research on this disorder are:
Past traumas or negative events related to social life
Negative childhood events (such as abuse, bullying, domestic violence) can leave a lasting impact on how someone perceives people. They also negatively impact one’s mental health and increase the chances of mental disorders in adulthood.
Someone who had negative events related to people might develop social anxiety later in life. This is why therapy is such a paramount intervention in processing and overcoming traumatic events that trigger mental health problems.
Genetic and biological factors
If one of your parents has suffered from a form of anxiety, you are more likely to develop its symptoms. Although this is not a rule of thumb, genetic markers can increase the likelihood of someone struggling with social anxiety disorder.
Similarly, this condition might also have some biological causes, such as impaired functioning of key neurotransmitters, like serotonin and adrenaline, or impaired brain areas, such as the amygdala. This brain area regulates the key processes involved in the emotion of fear.
The Best Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Living with social anxiety disorder can be very upsetting. This condition affects your ability to enjoy a fulfilling social life or build meaningful relationships. However, there are now many therapeutic approaches available that target the root causes of SAD. The good news is that most of the therapeutic modalities mentioned below can also be carried out online, which is more convenient than in-person therapy.
Therapy is a psychological treatment carried out within the bounds of a safe therapeutic alliance. Therapists are trained mental health professionals able to guide treatment and help their clients live a more fulfilling life. When seeking out therapy for social anxiety disorder, you will be guided to explore the causes that led to this condition, as well as your biggest fears related to being around other people.
Depending on the therapeutic approach, your therapist might intervene in different ways:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
In this therapeutic approach, your therapist will help you explore thoughts related to your social anxiety disorder. To help you overcome your irrational fears, they might design behavioral experiments, such as gradually meeting one person within an interval of time, speaking to one stranger, and so on, and thought monitoring or breathing exercises.
You can also opt for online therapy if you think this therapeutic modality is suitable for you. There are plenty of CBT therapists who offer virtual sessions tailored to your schedule.
Unlike CBT, which is mostly cognition-based, somatic therapy has a body-focused approach. It focuses on the sensation felt in the body when someone feels social anxiety. Therapists who practice this type of therapy will encourage their clients to track the signals in their bodies and release the built-up anxiety through somatic practices like yoga, shaking, or movement. Somatic therapy for social anxiety can also be delivered online, even if it is a body-based approach.
Regardless of the therapeutic modality employed to treat social anxiety disorder, all mental health practitioners will work under privacy and confidentiality principles, so you do not have to worry about your details being disclosed to someone else. Unlike speaking about your social anxiety fears to a friend or relative, online therapy always ensures confidentiality (except for several specific situations – you can talk to your therapist about them if you want to find out more).
Is Online Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder Effective?
Thanks to more and more people choosing online therapy for social anxiety disorder, there is now plenty of evidence that this is a safe, reliable, and effective method. Online counseling interventions have been confirmed by research studies to be an effective alternative to face-to-face therapy.
Online therapy might be a more appealing choice for people who’ve never tried therapy before. Speaking to a therapist from the comfort of your own home can seem far less daunting than visiting someone's office or commuting to an in-person session. More importantly, online therapy is an excellent choice for those struggling with social anxiety since you don’t have to travel through public places to get to your session.
In other words, you can now get the same tremendous benefits of in-person therapy, but in a more accessible, flexible, and hassle-free format. If time constraints are a problem for you, online counseling gives you the option to schedule a session around other commitments you might have.
The Bottom Line
To conclude, social anxiety disorder is a common yet serious mental health condition. When left untreated, it can significantly affect the quality of life and the ability to enjoy fulfilling relationships.
Fortunately, the advances done in the research of various therapeutic methods now demonstrate that psychotherapy is one of the best interventions for this disorder.
If you are looking for social anxiety disorder treatment and are unsure about where to start, you might find that online therapy is a good option for you. On the other side of your virtual call, there will always be a caring and supportive therapist who is eager to help you overcome social anxiety disorder.