If you have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, you know it’s characterized in all social situations by:
- Intense fear
These feelings can also come up when you anticipate being in a social settings or scenario. You might also have a persistent fear of being watched, criticized, judged, or rejected by others.
How Social Anxiety Shows Up
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can mean constant:
- Fear of interacting with or talking to strangers
- Worry about doing or saying something humiliating, embarrassing, or awkward
- Fear that others will notice you looking anxious
- Fear of physical symptoms of the condition showing up in social situations
- Avoidance of social situations where you might be the center of attention
- Analysis of social interactions after they take place, focusing on the flaws or mistakes you think you made
- Expectation of the worst possible outcomes from social situations, especially when you have a negative experience
Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can also have physical symptoms, including:
- Fast heartbeat
- Shaky voice or mumbling
- Trouble catching your breath
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Muscle tension
- Feeling that your mind has gone blank
Social Situations That May Trigger Social Anxiety
People with social anxiety get triggered by many different social situations, but common ones are:
- Work or school
- Making eye contact
- Eating in front of people
- Using a public restroom
- Starting conversations
- Entering rooms full of people
Your social anxiety might be so intense and overwhelming that you avoid all situations that give you symptoms. This can get in the way of day-to-day life and disrupt your relationships. A social life is crucial to your well-being, so it’s vital that you seek out effective treatment for your social anxiety.
4 Ways to Treat Social Anxiety
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is based on the principle that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all closely connected. With CBT for social anxiety, you’ll meet with a mental health professional to talk about how you can challenge your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about social events, control your focus, and change your behavior.
For example, before you head out to a party, you may have thoughts like:
Everyone will stare at me.
They’ll think I’m stupid and won’t want to talk to me.
They’ll notice how nervous I am.
These types of thoughts can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness, and the physical sensations of freeze, fight, or flight.
These kinds of feelings lead to certain behavior patterns like:
- Avoiding social situations
- Not making eye contact
- Sitting in a corner
- Planning an escape
- Not talking
- Drinking excessively
These behaviors encourage negative thoughts, creating a vicious cycle. CBT tries to break this cycle by encouraging more rational thoughts. You change how you react to your feelings and can act against your anxiety-based behaviors.
Different medications for social anxiety are effective for different people. Doctors commonly prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) first. This class of antidepressant medication includes paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft).
Your doctor may also prescribe the serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) venlafaxine (Effexor XR) or
- Beta blockers – These blocking the effects of adrenaline, so they can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and shaking voice and limbs. People with social anxiety often use them for particularly stressful situations, like giving a speech.
- Anti-anxiety medications (usually benzodiazepines) – These quickly reduce anxiety, but because they can be habit-forming and sedating, doctors tend to only prescribe them in the short-term.
You’ll probably start with a low dose of medication, gradually increasing to a full dose. This helps reduce side effects.
For many patients, it takes several weeks to notice an improvement in social anxiety symptoms.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Studies show that mindfulness meditation can alleviate the symptoms of social anxiety. You practice simply noticing your thoughts and feelings without analyzing them or reacting to them. The authors of The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Social Anxiety and Shyness say if you want to end a conversation because you’re getting nervous and sweaty, “…notice the sweating, be more accepting of it, and finish the conversation.”
To deal with social anxiety mindfully, it’s important to:
- Accept your anxiety rather than fight it
- Focus on your whole experience, not just your behavior
- Know you’re not alone with social anxiety
- Cultivate kindness towards yourself
- Know the anxious moment will pass
To develop a habit of mindfulness meditation and learn how to practice it, try using an app like:
4. TMS Therapy
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive brain stimulation therapy that treats multiple mental health conditions, including social anxiety. It works by using magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in your brain, bringing them back to a normal level of activity.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety and want to learn more about TMS therapy, get in touch with HPR Treatment Centers! We’ll book a consultation for you with one of our specialists to see if TMS treatment can help you live a life free of social anxiety.