Understanding Social Anxiety
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 15 million adults in the country live with a mental health condition called social anxiety, or social phobia. People with social anxiety feel so afraid of what others think that they avoid social contact as much as possible. This life-altering condition is one of the most diagnosed anxiety disorders in the country, yet misunderstandings about the disorder continue on.
Understanding what social phobia is and how it differs from being introverted are important first steps for anyone struggling with the condition. With this knowledge, people can feel empowered to seek the help they need.
Social Anxiety Symptoms
People with social anxiety feel intense fear when in certain social situations, including meetings, parties, or public places. Anytime the attention is put on the person with social anxiety, that person may feel mental and physical symptoms.
While each person with social anxiety experiences the signs differently, they often react to social situations with symptoms such as:
- Freezing, mind going blank when someone addresses them
- Obsessive thoughts about the judgment of others
- Constant, nagging worry that nobody likes them
- Rapid pulse
- Fast, shallow breaths
- Upset stomach
- Unusual sweating
People with social phobia may also have panic attacks in these situations. Sometimes, the physical signs of social anxiety only make the situation worse. For example, someone may start blushing and then worrying that other people are judging them for blushing.
Being an Introvert vs. Social Anxiety
One of the biggest misconceptions about social phobia is that it’s just being introverted. While they may seem similar to onlookers, being introverted and living with social anxiety are very different things.
The most significant distinction between these two conditions is that someone with social anxiety is unhappy with their situation. An introvert with no mental illness may simply enjoy being alone. However, someone with social anxiety wants to interact with others more, but feels hindered by the anxiety.
Someone with social phobia can be a naturally introverted or extroverted person. However, when they develop social anxiety, that takes precedence over their natural inclination. So, an extrovert may feel particularly frustrated by social anxiety because social interactions used to be a source of energy.
Coping Tools for Social Anxiety
While social anxiety can be debilitating, these feelings don’t have to be the end of the story for people with the disorder. Sometimes, self-help strategies can help people overcome their fears and live full social lives. Some common self-help strategies for social phobia include:
- Improve posture and eye contact for more confident non-verbal communication
- Use “I feel” statements to assert feelings
- Confide in loved ones about social anxiety
- Start with small interactions and gradually expose yourself to bigger social events
- When panic hits, try grounding techniques such as deep breathing
Consider Therapy for Social Anxiety
Self-help strategies can be effective for some people with social phobia. However, others need professional help to overcome their obstacles. Therapists can help patients with social anxiety implement common coping strategies and learn more personalized approaches.
One of the most common counseling techniques for social anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). During CBT, therapists and patients identify current thought and behavioral patterns that worsen the person’s social phobia. Then, the therapist teaches the patient how to implement new patterns of thoughts and behaviors. Over time, the patient can use these coping mechanisms in social situations and start living a full social life.
If you have symptoms of social anxiety, be sure to contact FLBH soon. Our team of compassionate healthcare professionals may help you overcome social anxiety.