Living With Social Anxiety Disorder: A Guide

Updated January 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you struggle to make phone calls, send text messages, go to class, order food or talk to coworkers? You may be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Understanding possible manifestations and symptoms can help you to find support more quickly, which may help you to attain a higher quality of life. 

Read on to learn more about what social anxiety disorder is, possible symptoms and supportive strategies, and the role that therapy can play in social anxiety disorder support. 

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder? 

Experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms?

Social anxiety disorder is statistically suggested to be the third most common mental disorder in the United States. Although it’s approximated that about 7.1% of adults and 9.1% of adolescents per year are diagnosed with the disorder in the U.S. alone,  some people may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed — which could indicate a higher overall number of those living with the disorder. 

Social anxiety can result in physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms that can hinder your ability to go through daily life, or make it difficult to have relationships.

For example: Though a person may understand that there’s low risk in opening a text message, saying “hi” to your neighbor, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or picking up a cup of coffee, symptoms of social anxiety may cause challenges that may not be present in someone with the disorder. Understanding the impact and range of social anxiety disorder symptoms can lead to a more empathetic and supportive societal experience for those currently living or experiencing manifestations. 

Social Anxiety Disorder: Impact And Possible Effects

Social anxiety disorder manifests in unique ways across each individual. However, many agree that it is more intense than simply experiencing feelings of nervousness or shyness.

Diagnostically, social anxiety disorder can be identified in many by ongoing, marked fear or worry regarding one or multiple social situations, or one’s perception within said situations. This, alongside other potential symptoms, can cause significant distress or impede functioning and quality of life in some.

Additional noted symptoms of social anxiety disorder include: 

  • Analysis or rumination of past social events 

  • Feelings of doom when thinking about social interactions 

  • Intense feelings of fear about interactions, or the potential to embarrass oneself 

  • Gastrointestinal upset 

  • Feelings of dizziness, disorientation or tunnel vision

Many people who live with social anxiety disorder may find that symptoms can take time out of their day, and may also impact their health, relationships, work and other areas of life. 

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, you may choose to reach out to a qualified provider, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. They may be able to further assist you in taking the next step in addressing your symptoms and can provide you with a medical evaluation. 

Living With Social Anxiety Disorder: Supportive Strategies 

Social anxiety can make it challenging for some to have a job, build relationships – including work relationships or friendships – and to experience the things one otherwise might enjoy. While it may feel overwhelming to begin to address this in your life, there are supportive strategies to try that can help you start the journey toward a higher quality of life as you live with the effects of social anxiety disorder.

Challenge Irrational Thoughts

Do you experience irrational thoughts?  

For example, you might worry that you’ll embarrass yourself by engaging with a group, or that others will gossip later if you speak up. Additionally, you might feel anxious about bothering other people by vocalizing your own needs. 

Identifying irrational thoughts can be a helpful first step in challenging them later. We do want to note: For some, these thoughts might feel so overwhelming and intense that they can hold someone back from engaging with others.

However, challenging them with what you logically know to be true can help you to feel more at peace. You might say in response, for example, “I have no proven evidence to support that attendees will gossip about me if I were to continue with or attend this event”.

Meditation

If you have social anxiety disorder, mindfulness meditation can help you in multiple ways. Deep breathing exercises can help you to calm yourself when you’re faced with difficult situations. It can do this by helping you to slow your heart rate and effectively oxygenate your body. 

Additionally, many learn the concept of mindfulness  as they practice regular meditation. Mindfulness is generally defined by many as a practice when you purposely focus your thoughts on the senses of the present moment. So, instead of thinking about an upcoming situation that makes you nervous, you may choose to think about the way the sun feels on your skin, or the smell of a candle next to you. 

Some mindfulness exercises can focus on the past, such as remembering the sensory experiences of a pleasant beach vacation that you had or any other positive memory. You may also leverage mindfulness in combination with other peaceful concepts or imaginative settings, such as the sun setting over the horizon. .  

Mindfulness can be done without positive memories of past experiences. Rather, you can apply your imagination to create a calming scene that appeals to your unique tastes. 

Practice

Challenging yourself and seeking out social interaction can be an effective way to feel confident in your engagement skills over time. Some people may find that certain situations are nerve-wracking than others, starting as slowly as they feel is appropriate for their unique situation. 

If you choose to try this strategy, we do want to note that you don’t have to start with the things that are at the most difficult or challenging on your list for your efforts to be effective. Instead, you can start by communicating where and with whom you feel most comfortable. This can look different for everyone, such as emailing a work request or completing a follow up in person or via phone. 

The more you engage in or practice an activity, it may, in time, start to feel much easier.

Some may also find it helpful to write down social activities that are challenging for them, ranking or rating them based on which is easiest or most difficult. Once you rate them, you may choose to work your way up the scale and address each one intentionally. 

You can start with the things that only bring you smaller, more moderate amounts of anxiety. Once you push yourself to do that activity a few times, or you notice the feelings of nervousness start to deplete, you may see that this form of interaction isn’t a major risk — which may empower you to feel more comfortable as you continue to live your life. 

Success Tracking

Tracking the success that you’re having in finding a higher quality of life can be a good way to build confidence, encouraging you to keep trying new things. For example: Every time you’re able to do something in a social situation that you had wanted to avoid, you may choose to add it to your list of successes. This can be a journal entry or a note to self on your cork board.  When you are struggling in the future, you can look back on these for strength and a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished, remembering your capacity for success.

Journal

Keeping a journal can help you visually sort through your thoughts, identify patterns, track your successes, and may allow you to recognize when you start to fall into old habits. All of this can be quite helpful to many as they continue to learn to live with social anxiety disorder. Self-Care

It can be easy to get caught up in feelings of nervousness and hyper focus, rather than making sure you are staying healthy and cared for. To combat this, you may choose to practice a bit of self-care, such as eating healthy, taking a warm bath, exercising regularly and other activities that can nurture and promote your physical and mental health. If you enjoy painting or going for walks, for example, but don’t often find the time for them, you may also choose to prioritize them as part of your self-care.

Support Groups

Experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms?

Joining a support group that connects you with other individuals who are struggling with similar challenges can give you a safe space to start working through symptoms of social anxiety disorder. 

Self-Talk

One of the most self-supporting strategies that many may find effective is to intentionally be kind to yourself. If you had a bad day, for example, you may choose to kindly recite affirmations and truths. These can vary but may include thoughts that align with resiliency. An example would be: “It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. It’s a very natural part of living, and sometimes, the hard days can even be a learning experience”.

Self-compassion and positive self-talk can make the tough moments less distressing for many and can help provide you with a greater sense of comfort and strength.

How Can Online Therapy Help Those Living With Social Anxiety Disorder? 

Social anxiety disorder can feel draining for most and can pose a possible barrier to care. It can be difficult to leave the home or put yourself in new or unfamiliar social situations, even if your goal is to find support and symptomatic relief for symptoms of the disorder. 

Online therapy can be helpful to many in this specific use case, offering the potential to speak to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home or another familiar space. It may also be more comfortable than in-person therapeutic models, as you can choose to connect with your therapist via in-app messaging rather than exclusively in-person sessions. 

Is Online Therapy Effective To Address Social Anxiety Disorder? 

Current scientific literature suggests that use of internet-based CBT can help reduce social anxiety disorder symptoms in many. A therapist can help you use tools or engage in practices such as those listed above, and they can provide you with additional emotional support and understanding as you walk through the process of addressing your symptoms.

Takeaway

Social anxiety disorder can have many possible manifestations and significantly disrupt one’s quality of life. Employing strategic supportive measures and seeking support via online therapy can be helpful ways to address the impact that social anxiety disorder can have on your life. BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who you can speak to through the BetterHelp app. 

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