How To Overcome Social Phobia
We live in a day and age where many people are plighted with phobias of various natures.
Many of us are afraid of something. Perhaps we’re afraid of losing a loved one or of heights. However, there are distinct differences between being afraid of something and having a phobia.
A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something, some examples are thalassophobia (fear of the sea), acrophobia (fear of heights), and nyctophobia (fear of the dark). While you may be afraid of spiders, for instance, having a phobia of spiders would mean changing your behavior and choices because of your fear of spiders.
Given that we live in the age of digital communication, evidence suggests that social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is on the rise. Social phobia is defined by persistent fear of one or more social situations involving unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others. The fear also involves being afraid of embarrassment and humiliation.
It is estimated that about 12% of U.S. adults experience social phobia at one point or another. While this percentage may seem high, it’s essential to know that phobias are treatable through therapeutic modalities such as talk and exposure therapy. When we better understand our phobias, we can create a more concise treatment plan.
Understanding Social Phobia
What is social phobia? Social phobia (social anxiety disorder) is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Individuals who experience social phobia will likely have issues with being observed and watched in public areas.
They may also feel their behaviors and actions will attract mortification or shame. This disorder can have an adverse impact on one’s quality of life due to challenges concerning attending school, working, and spending time with unfamiliar people.
The social effects of social phobia can be challenging. For instance, someone experiencing social phobia may find it difficult to make and maintain healthy relationships. Symptoms also tend to present physically as well as psychologically.
Physical symptoms of social phobia can include the following:
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) affirms that 15 million adults currently live with social phobia. In many cases, this disorder frequently appears during teenage years. However, experts are beginning to believe that early signs can be presented in young children as extreme shyness.
Research has shown that about 95% of people living with this disorder tend to not seek immediate help. Additionally, over 33% of adults experience the physical symptoms (mentioned above) for an average of 10 years before seeking professional help.
Therapy Treatment For Social Phobia
If the physical symptoms of social phobia resonate with you, one way to start alleviating your anxiety is to seek treatment. Receiving the correct treatment has the potential to change your life and allow you to overcome irrational fear.
There is multiple treatment options for social phobia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medicines, such as antidepressants, can help you cope with symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Despite the importance of seeking out treatment, many people refuse to do so for various reasons. Some may believe they can overcome the phobia alone or that symptoms will simply go away on their own.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological counseling that is often used to treat social phobia. Physicians and psychiatrists will prescribe a type of behavioral therapy before resorting to medication.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social phobia generally consists of exposure therapy, social skills training, cognitive restructuring, and symptom management skills. One can feel discomfort when undergoing these stages of CBT.
Exposure therapy is a step-by-step guide where the afflicted individual will gradually develop comfort with being in public spaces. The person will start by going out in public with their counselor and eventually working on going out on their own.
The success of exposure therapy takes time and patience. However, those who have a social phobia will experience both short-term and long-term benefits. Like exposure therapy, social skills training allows people with a social phobia to regain mastery of various social abilities.
Social skills training involves role-playing and rehearsal of common social scenarios. With time and practice, individuals who participate in training are less likely to experience anxiety and fear of public spaces. Social skills training also provides a sense of overall comfort with everyday social situations.
Another treatment for social phobia is cognitive restructuring which focuses on internal thought processes, especially regarding socialization and venturing into public spaces. This form of phobia therapy greatly tackles negative thinking and fears association.
Many people may think they can attempt cognitive restructuring on their own, however, working with a licensed counselor is highly advisable. This type of treatment allows individuals to better understand the underlying reasons behind their social fears. Over time, cognitive restructuring will help bring ease and comfort through exposure to everyday social situations.
The final aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses the adverse physical symptoms of social phobia. Symptom management skills focuses on using breath control and other physical techniques to reduce stress and anxiety. A few physical symptoms of social phobia include the following:
Medication And Social Phobia
Despite the merits of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), some individuals may need additional therapies. In certain cases, individuals living with social phobia may need medication in addition to CBT or other talk therapies.
Medication to treat symptoms of social phobia include the following:
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Patients who take one or more of the medications above can have routine check-ins with a psychiatrist who will monitor their progress.
Antidepressants are one of the most common medications used to alleviate social phobia symptoms. This medication is used to treat the depression and anxiety often associated with social phobia (social anxiety disorder).
Similarly, to antidepressants, MAOIs treat depression and anxiety, however, they should not be consumed with cheese or red wines. The side effects are severe and highly undesirable.
Benzodiazepines and beta-blockers also target anxiety.
Benzodiazepines take effect very quickly and should not be administered to individuals experiencing substance abuse disorders. Beta-blockers generally alleviate physical symptoms associated with social phobia.
Self-Help Methods For Social Phobia
While seeking out treatment for social phobia is paramount, there are self-help techniques that can be implemented in tandem. Deep breathing exercises and positive self-talk can be helpful to overcome social phobia on your own, in addition to a treatment plan created by a mental health professional.
Deep breathing can help the shortness of breath and speech difficulties that often accompany social phobia. Inhaling and exhaling slowly while counting from one to ten, paying attention to bodily movements while counting, and slowly breathing in and out through your nose can help reduce feelings of anxiety.
Breathing exercises may not cure social phobia on its own, but with time and habitual practice, it can make a positive impact to decrease physical symptoms.
Like deep breathing, taking baby steps in various social situations can accumulate to massive change over time. However, this version of self-help should be implemented carefully and gradually. For instance, rushing into a huge crowd of people and telling yourself that you'll be fine is probably not the best course of action.
This will likely bring about unwanted consequences and can stunt progress. However, step-by-step progression into certain social situations can be beneficial and even boost levels of confidence and comfort.
Going out to a restaurant with a group of friends is a great start. Once you can do this, you can try going with just one or two friends, and eventually going by yourself.
Finally, engaging in and paying attention to positive self-talk is a great way of self-help. Often, cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) or medication can help individuals think positively, especially in public spaces. Tuning into that positive voice can help you overcome your fears and can boost self-assurance and comfort.
As you learn to cope with social phobia, it's important to know you’re not alone. While various forms of treatment exist to combat this disorder, remember you are stronger than any phobia.
Continue your hard work, keep your faith, and never give up. If you ever feel the need to talk with anyone, please know that the licensed and caring professionals at BetterHelp will always be here for you.
We pride ourselves on the ability to provide high-quality care to those who may need it. Regardless of who you are or what you may be going through in life, just know that we are always one click away. To get started with BetterHelp, start by clicking here.
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