Can I Overcome My Severe Social Anxiety?

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Social anxiety disorder is a common anxiety condition that affects millions of people around the world. Even if you feel alone in your struggle with social anxiety, you are not, and it is treatable with some assistance. In this article, you will learn how you can beat even the most severe social anxiety and how you can get started.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

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Social anxiety belongs to a broad group of conditions known as anxiety disorders. There are many anxiety-based disorders, including but not limited to social stress, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and phobia-specific disorders.

Social anxiety disorder tends to appear and become problematic in situations where people are required to talk, perform, or engage with others. A person with social anxiety tends to become stressed and tense when dealing with situations that require social interaction like participating in a group, having a job interview, or having to make a presentation in school. While some of these situations may create levels of nervousness or anxiety for many, those with social anxiety are particularly affected.

Social anxiety can interfere with crucial areas such as work and school, where talking may be required. Still, like any other anxiety disorder, its symptoms can be managed with techniques such as those utilized in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapies, as well as medication.

What Are The Symptoms Of Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is often mistakenly confused with being shy or reserved, when, in fact, it’s more involved than that.

It’s typical for people to feel uncomfortable talking to people that they are unfamiliar with or feel a bit nervous when speaking in front of a group of people. Still, for those with social anxiety, these feelings can seem unbearable due to the many symptoms that it causes.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of social anxiety [1] [2]:

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  • Sweating and blushing
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Rapid heart-rate
  • Tremors
  • Muscle tension and stiff posture
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • “Blanking out” mentally.
  • Nausea and stomach pain

The anxiety towards situations associated with social phobia usually stems from a fear of being judged or humiliated, and those with social anxiety may feel self-conscious or embarrassed in front of others and worry that they might be rejected. [1]

Social anxiety can cause symptoms of other conditions such as depression due to its placing limitations on a person’s ability to interact with others and form relationships freely.

Often, those with a social anxiety disorder might find that they fear the symptoms more than the social situations themselves. These symptoms can be so uncomfortable and uncontrollable that many individuals who struggle with this condition will deliberately avoid these settings so that they can dodge the anxiety. Additionally, it is not uncommon for people to worry and become stressed out weeks in-advance before an event where they might have to interact with other people or vice-versa – they might worry about how they appeared to others after the fact.

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Like the other types of anxiety disorders, social anxiety can have many different causes; however, it is believed that a lot of it can be traced to a person’s experiences growing up and their environments.

Social anxiety disorder can appear at a very young age in those who may have experienced bullying, teasing, or abuse. This can include school and home life. For example, overly controlling parents can contribute to the disorder during a person’s early years of social development. [2]

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While shyness isn’t indicative of social anxiety, it is also thought that the trait of shyness may be involved in its development. This disorder will typically rear its head around the age of 13, which is a typical age where adolescents are trying to fit in with their peers.

Certain events can cause a person to feel embarrassed and self-conscious and will worry about it happening again in the future. In fact, these feelings can last a lifetime, unfortunately.

Although these experiences are most likely to blame for social anxiety disorder, scientists have not ruled out genetic causes of it, and a familial connection has been established. Still, it isn’t fully understood why some members will have it, and others don’t. [1]

Despite this, there are certain areas of the brain that can make people more susceptible to anxiety, and this, combined with all of the potential social and environmental factors, can lead to social anxiety.

How You Can Treat Social Anxiety

Understanding the causes of social anxiety and why you experience the symptoms that you do is crucial when treating social phobia, and learning about why you think and react to situations can be discovered through therapy.

Psychotherapy is highly recommended for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, and one particular type known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been demonstrated to be highly successful in doing so, along with a variety of other mental health conditions.

The reason why CBT works well is that social anxiety disorder is rooted in a person’s thoughts and behavior, and the techniques work to change how you currently feel about the social situations that create anxiety and how you react to them. [3] CBT also helps you to identify thoughts associated with increased stress and learn how to challenge and balance those thoughts.

Another CBT technique is gradual exposure to the things that create anxiety. It might seem dreadful at first; after all, confronting your fears can be quite scary, but cognitive behavioral therapy works one step at a time, starting with the things that only make you mildly uncomfortable and working up from there. [1]

You can participate in cognitive behavioral therapy in one-on-one sessions or in group ones, and it’s understandable to want to go into the latter; however, group sessions can be extremely beneficial to overcoming social anxiety.

Group settings are facilitated by trained mental health professionals and are supportive, non-judgmental environments. As you attend either group or individual CBT therapy, you begin to relearn how to look at situations, how to perceive and interpret information, and how to cope with symptoms of anxiety.

There are also support groups that are specifically tailored to those who have a social anxiety disorder, where you can all share your experiences and work on strategies to overcome it.

Medication can be helpful but will require a consultation from your doctor. There is a range of medications that may be used to help manage anxiety and its symptoms.

Since many people fear these physical symptoms, it can provide significant relief to patients and make the difference between avoiding the situation entirely or facing it, which can ultimately help practice what you learn in therapy.

Nonetheless, even though medication can be beneficial, its effects are contingent on its ongoing use. Therapy is a helpful addition to medication-based therapy that can support you in moving off of medication if you or your doctor decide to use medication temporarily or to transition you off of its use.

Where Can I Find A Therapist For Social Anxiety?

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You might feel alone in how you feel, but truthfully, social anxiety, along with the other anxiety disorders, are very common, and some counselors and therapists specialize in helping people who feel the same way that you do and use effective techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety and talk-therapy, in general, can be provided in-person and face-to-face with a professional, or it can be carried out online. Both are very viable methods, and it’s ultimately your choice which one you’d prefer – you’ll be in good hands either way.

If you are interested in online therapy, BetterHelp can help you connect to licensed professionals who can help you every step of the way.

Online counseling from BetterHelp is convenient, flexible, and affordable, and you can start getting assistance by signing up here.

Once you have joined, all you need is an internet connection and either a computer, tablet, or a mobile device to get access to therapists who can help you today.

Conclusion

Social anxiety disorder and its symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable for individuals who struggle with them, and because of this, confronting the sources that cause fear and anxiety for them can sound daunting for those who are just starting treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. However, these symptoms and the feelings towards them don’t need to last forever, and the goal of it is to reduce or eliminate thinking patterns and behaviors that lead to anxiety as well as learn coping skills to calm and prepare you for social situations that might feel problematic, especially in the early stages of your therapy. With the tools available to you, severe social anxiety can be beaten, and you can start living life to your fullest.

References

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/index.shtml
  1. Bhandari, S. (2019, May 20). Social Anxiety Disorder: When It Happens & What It Feels Like. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-social-anxiety-disorder
  1. American Psychological Association. (2020). What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

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