Many people dislike public speaking or prefer not to be in a crowded space. Typically, it is still possible to participate in such activities when it is required. For some individuals, this is not the case. When people are dealing with social anxiety, they might find social settings so difficult that it feels entirely impossible to engage in activities that require social interaction. If you find social interaction difficult, question whether you have social anxiety, and wonder what you can do about it, learn more:
What is Social Anxiety?
Broadly speaking, social anxiety is defined as intense discomfort in social settings and social interactions. Most commonly, you might think of someone being anxious during public speaking. However, many different specific social situations can elicit this reaction. Activities such as small talk, eating in public, and using public bathrooms can all cause anxiety for people who have social anxiety.
Many people who have social anxiety deal with it by simply avoiding those situations that seem as though they will be anxiety provoking. This seems helpful in the moment as they are successfully able to avoid the anxious symptoms. However, in the long term, this avoidance just reinforces the anxiety. This means the more situations and settings are avoided, the more frightening they seem, the more anxiety they provoke, and the more a person will want to continue avoiding. It makes a difficult cycle to break.
Even going to social settings and not actually interacting can be a form of avoidance. This is sometimes called “covert” avoidance because it does not seem so obvious. However, it can have the same negative effects for the person. Additionally, the reality is that social anxiety is not just due to a fear of social settings. It is due to a fear of being evaluated by others and facing negative subsequent repercussions. Both negative and positive forms of evaluation seem fearful. This can be more difficult to avoid.
Instead of direct or covert avoidance, socially anxious individuals may deal with social anxiety by trying to be inconspicuous. They may believe that if they can just blend into the background, they will face less scrutiny. Indeed, they may face less scrutiny, but they may do so at the expense of other functioning. If left unfettered, social anxiety can affect one’s personal and professional life.
Stats About Social Anxiety
Broadly, anxiety disorders are ranked as the most common mental health problem in the US. Almost 40 million adults are affected by some form of anxiety. Among those individuals, approximately 15 million American adults are affected by social anxiety disorder specifically. Men and women are equally affected by the disorder. Symptoms seem to start, on average, at approximately 13 years old. Many people struggle for years on their own before seeking counseling. Research suggests approximately 36% of the people who seek help will have waited 10 years or more to take that helpful step.
5 Ways to Start Dealing with Social Anxiety Now
If you have been struggling with social anxiety, and you find that it is interfering with your daily life, you may want to take steps to manage it. There are many things you can do, even starting today, to improve your social anxiety and your ability to function in social settings.
Attend to and Learn About Your Social Anxiety
Often the first step to learning to deal with some problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem. In the case of social anxiety, there maybe some tendency to make excuses for the behaviors associated with the disorder. However, it will be important to identify social anxiety as the problem and to identify what behaviors are the product of the social anxiety.
Along with this, it can be helpful to learn more about social anxiety. Like anything in life, more knowledge can provide more power in this situation. By learning about social anxiety, you can start to better understand the condition, yourself, and the way this condition has affected your life. As you learn more about it, you might also find it easier to manage the condition.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
One key approach for dealing with social anxiety is to learn relaxation techniques. These are techniques that can be used to manage and reduce any type of anxiety. They can be used to help you cope so that they can remain in social settings and situations more easily.
One popular relaxation technique is deep breathing. This involves first simply taking some time to notice your breathing. Then, you can work to slow down the breathing. The theory is that if you can slow your breathing, you will also slow your heart rate. Eventually, the brain gets the message that you are physically okay and it can relax.
Another relaxation technique is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups. The contrast highlights the difference between physical signs of stress and a calmer state of being. This strategy, along with deep breathing, can be put into practice anytime or anywhere to reduce feelings of social anxiety.
Identify and Get Rid of “Safety Behaviors”
Individuals who have any kind of anxiety, including social anxiety, tend to engage in certain “safety behaviors.” As the name implies, these “safety behaviors” help them to feel safe. Notably, these help them feel safe, and they do not necessarily actually keep them safe. In most cases, the person would be safe without or with the “safety behaviors.”
Since “safety behaviors” are only used to help people feel safe, they are not actually necessary. In fact, in the long term, they tend to just reinforce the anxiety and make it worse. Chief among these “safety behaviors” is the tendency towards avoidance. That could occur through entirely avoiding a situation or leaving it once some sense of discomfort occurs.
Other safety behaviors can include only going into social situations when a friend or family member can accompany. People who deal with social anxiety may also seek reassurance from others when they feel uncomfortable in a social situation. This is similarly not helpful in the long term. It is important to be able to give yourself reassurance to get through the interaction.
Challenge Negative Thinking
Another way to manage social anxiety is by challenging your negative thinking. Research shows that people with anxiety and depression tend to engage in maladaptive thinking patterns. This can include various thoughts that can almost go unnoticed. For example, perhaps when situations seem uncertain, you assume everything is bad or you jump to conclusions.
You can challenge your negative thoughts by learning about them and learning to observe them. When you are monitoring and know they are there, you will have more power to challenge the thoughts and ignore or eliminate them. In time, your inner critic can be challenged and silenced. Then, when you are in social situations there will be less concerned about evaluation.
Because social anxiety has a large component related to fear of evaluation, to combat the social anxiety, you do need to silence your own worst critic—yourself. Many people are very self-critical and that sets very high expectations. No wonder the prospect of evaluation seems anxiety-provoking. In many cases, it can be important to instead practice self-acceptance.
Much as it sounds, self-acceptance is all about accepting yourself. It is similar to self-compassion in that individuals who are dealing with social anxiety need to learn to treat themselves with the same level of compassion they would give to a friend. Learning to do this can decrease personal high expectations, which can make evaluation seem less scary.
What Are the Traditional Treatments for Social Anxiety?
Self-care approaches are a great place to start when trying to manage and reduce your social anxiety. However, sometimes self-care approaches are not quite enough to resolve the anxiety. Many people need professional help to guide them in their recovery from social anxiety. This means you could consider attending counseling or taking medications for help dealing with social anxiety. Most therapists are well-trained to help clients work through various types of anxiety, including social anxiety.
Therapy for Anxiety
If you find that social anxiety is an unpleasant and unwanted part of your life, you may also find that it could be difficult to manage the condition on your own. Many people seek out therapy support for dealing with social anxiety. A trained therapist will help you learn strategies and skills to help you stop using avoidance and improve your ability to cope in social situations.
Therapists can also generally help clients to better understand the nature of social anxiety and to identify the ways that the condition is affecting their functioning. All this information can improve a person’s internal motivation to commit to stop avoiding, start using helpful coping techniques instead, and overcome their social anxiety.
Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety
One specific approach for dealing with social anxiety, that is used in counseling settings, is exposure therapy. This approach is all about facing the fearful things in life so that you can stop avoiding. Exposure therapy typically involves first learning coping skills, which you can use to help the feared situation to seem less threatening.
After learning how to cope with anxiety-producing situations, exposure therapy asks clients to approach and sit with social situations. The idea is that by approaching rather than avoiding, people can adjust and learn to be more comfortable with social settings. In time, it could feel more natural and less anxiety-producing to think about social interaction in social settings.
CBD Oil for Social Anxiety
CBD oil is made as an extract from marijuana. Many people turn to marijuana to self-medicate against the symptoms of some mental health problem. Research does suggest that cannabis may be helpful for treating anxiety. More specifically, research indicates that cannabidiol may help individuals with social anxiety. This has been demonstrated in brain scans where changes in blood flow were monitored. While more research is still needed, thus far, CBD oil does seem to be helpful for individuals who struggle with various forms of anxiety and episodes of depression. It’s also important to note that CBD differs from the psychoactive chemical THC. Find out more information here.
How to Find a Therapist
Ultimately, if you are struggling with social anxiety, you do not have to continue living in fear. You may want to pursue mental health counseling from a specialist, who will be able to use therapy approaches to assist you. You may also want the help of a psychiatrist. These mental health providers can prescribe medication. You may also want to consider alternative approaches such as CBD oil. Use the resources available to get help and improve your symptoms, which will improve your functioning and daily life.
If you are interested in finding a mental health provider to help you with your social anxiety, there are a few ways to go about it. One is to ask your general doctor for a recommendation. You can also ask friends or family who they would recommend. Finally, you can research online to find a provider that may be right for you. There are many great resources online that can help you find the right therapist.
For example, the Psychology Today website has search tools where you can find local mental health providers. SAMSHA also has a treatment locator where you can find low-cost therapy options. Today, many people also choose to attend therapy appointments online. Online counseling is confidential and convenient. If you choose to pursue online counseling, there are services available like ThriveTalk. It is simple to use. Each therapist is well-trained and licensed to offer the help that you need.
Bottom Line: Dealing with Social Anxiety
Dealing with social anxiety can be time-consuming and sometimes debilitating in certain settings. It can prevent you from fully living your life, if you feel held back from interacting with people at school or work. You may also struggle to make fulfilling relationships. However, you can move past the anxiety. The challenge is to go against your natural impulse of avoidance and instead practice self-care or seek help so that you can approach the social situations. Eventually, you will become more and more comfortable. In the end, your anxiety will dissipate, and social interactions will not seem so difficult.