How To Overcome Social Phobia

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We live in a day and age where many people are plighted with phobias of various natures. However, social phobia, more commonly referred to as social anxiety disorder, is more serious than one might believe. Left unchecked, social phobia can have devastating impacts on one's social life, work life, and personal relationships. Treating this disorder is imperative, however, before afflicted persons can begin their recovery, they must understand exactly what they are up against.

Understand the Ins and Outs of Social Phobia

Psychology Today defines social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) as "an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations." Persons who have a severe phobia of this nature will likely have issues with being observed and watched in public areas. They may also feel that their behaviors and actions will attract mortification or shame. This disorder is so gripping that it can have adverse impacts and discourage afflicted individuals from going to school, attending work, or even spending time with people other than close family members. Many people who are plighted with social phobia realize its many problematic aspects, yet remain powerless to conquer it.

Addressing Our Emotions Can Be Difficult

The consequences of social anxiety disorder are not any more favorable than the inherent aspects of the phobia. Not only does this disorder halt affected individuals from making and maintaining healthy relationships, but the symptoms of the disease are as physical as they are psychological. Persons who have a social phobia will experience the following unpleasant symptoms: nausea, stomach pains, speech difficulties, trembling, blushing, and intense sweating.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) affirms that 15 million adults currently have social phobia. In many cases, this disorder frequently appears during the teenage years. However, a telltale warning sign of social phobia often presents itself as extreme shyness in young children. Unfortunately, 95% of people afflicted with this disorder fail to seek out immediate help. Moreover, over 33% of adults experience the symptoms above of social phobia for ten years before seeking out professional help.

Seek Immediate Treatment

If any of the symptoms above of social phobia sound familiar to you, or if you believe that you are suffering from a social anxiety disorder, you must seek out treatment immediately. More often than not, the longer symptoms occur, the harder it can be to break free of them. Furthermore, receiving the necessary treatment will inevitably change your life, allow you to overcome fear, and pave the way for you to live your best life.

As documented by WebMD, there are multiple treatment options for social phobia. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and medicines like antidepressants can combat the symptoms of social anxiety disorder while easing the burdens suffered by afflicted individuals. Despite the importance of seeking out treatment, many people fail to do so for various reasons. Sometimes they believe the symptoms of social phobia will simply go away on their own or with time. Others who suffer from social anxiety disorder may believe that they can overcome the phobia on their own. However, seeking out treatment for social phobia is not a sign of weakness. Conversely, it indicates strength and one's awareness to look for help when and where it is needed.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychological counseling that is often used to treat social phobia. More often than not, doctors will prescribe this version of treatment before medication. In many cases, individuals who suffered from social anxiety disorder experienced recovery from cognitive-behavioral therapy and did not require antidepressants or other medications.

This form of treatment generally consists of exposure therapy, social skills training, cognitive restructuring, and symptom management skills. Sometimes, persons undergoing these stages of cognitive-behavioral therapy may feel a sense of discomfort. This is normal and should not deter anyone from accepting the treatment.

Exposure therapy is a step-by-step guidance process where the afflicted individual will gradually develop comfort with being in public spaces. The person will start by going out in public places with their counselor and eventually working up to the ability to go 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 persons who have a social phobia to regain mastery of various social abilities. This form of treatment is often enacted via role-playing and rehearsal of common scenarios. With time and practice, individuals who undergo social skills training are less likely to suffer from anxiety and fear of public spaces. Social skills training also provides a sense of overall comfort with everyday social situations.

As the name suggests, cognitive restructuring focusing on internal thought processes, especially regarding socialization and venturing into public spaces. This form of counseling greatly tackles negative thinking and fears associated with social phobia. Many people may think they can attempt cognitive restructuring on their own, however, working with a licensed counselor can do wonders and is highly advisable. Not only does this treatment help afflicted individuals understand their fears, but it allows them to understand the underlying reasons behind those fears, thus tackling the root of the problem. Over time, cognitive restructuring breeds ease and comfort with exposure to everyday social situations.

The final aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses the handling of physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Symptom management skills focus on using breath control and other physical techniques to reduce stress and anxiety which often engender adverse physical reactions to social phobia such as trembling, blushing, nausea, stomach pains, intense sweating, and difficulty with speaking. Tackling both the psychological and physical symptoms associated with a social anxiety disorder are equally critical to overcoming the phobia.

Medication

Despite the merits of cognitive-behavioral therapy, it is not always the best form of treatment for everyone who has a social phobia. In certain cases, prescribed medication is the right answer. Medication to treat social anxiety disorder often falls into one of the following categories: antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers. Patients who take one or more of the medications above will have routine check-ins with a counselor who can monitor their progress and intake of medicine.

Addressing Our Emotions Can Be Difficult

Antidepressants are one of the most common medications used to alleviate social phobia. This version of the medication is used to combat depression and anxiety which are often associated with social anxiety disorder.

Similarly to antidepressants, MAOIs combat 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. While benzodiazepines usually take effect very quickly and should not be administered to individuals suffering from substance abuse issues, beta-blockers generally alleviate physical symptoms associated with social phobia.

Try Self-Help Methods

While seeking out treatment for social phobia is paramount, there are still certain self-help techniques that can be implemented afterward. According to Psych Central, deep breathing exercises, baby steps, and positive self-talk can be helpful and advantageous as individuals work to overcome social anxiety disorder.

Deep breathing may sound overrated or juvenile, but it can help tackle 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 have wonderful impacts and reduce feelings of anxiety. Breathing exercises may not cure social phobia on the first try, but with time and habitual practice, the positive impacts will eventually manifest.

Like deep breathing, taking baby steps in various social situations can effectively combat social anxiety disorder. 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 the certain social situation 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 could then try going with just one or two friends, and then 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 or medication can help afflicted individuals to have more positive thoughts, especially when going into public spaces. Tuning into that positive voice that tells you that you can overcome your fears can boost self-assurance and comfort by venturing into public spaces.

A Final Word

As you work to conquer social phobia, it's very important to know that you are not alone. While various forms of treatment exist to combat this disorder, always remember that 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.

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