What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is a common form of anxiety where people may be fearful of some or even all social situations. This could include meeting new people, interviewing for a new job, dating, attending a social event, talking to a server at a restaurant, returning an item to a store, or being in a space with many other people. Sometimes, people will avoid these types of situations so they will not be embarrassed. In other cases, people may not fear social situations, but be fearful of doing certain tasks, such as giving speeches, answering questions in class, or performing in front of other people. This is known as performance anxiety, but still part of Social Anxiety Disorder.
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms of Social Anxiety
- Worrying about being judged
- Worrying about embarrassing oneself
- Fear about interacting with strangers
- Worrying others will notice you look anxious
- Fear that physical symptoms will cause embarrassment (discussed more below)
- Avoiding tasks due to fear of being embarrassed
- Avoiding activities where you may be the center of attention
- Being anxious in anticipation of feared activities or events
- Attending a social event but doing so with fear and anxiety
- After attending an event, thinking about your interactions and finding your flaws
- Assuming the worst consequences from a negative social situation
Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Fast heartbeat
- Stomach Troubles
- Short of Breath
- Lightheaded or dizziness
- Blank mind
- Muscle tension
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Mental health issues, including social anxiety, are complex and due to interactions between biological and environmental factors.
Runs in the family. Many anxiety disorders run in families. It is unclear whether these disorders are genetic or learned from the environment.
Learned from experience. Anxiety may be learned from one’s surroundings. In some cases, anxiety may be learned when parents act anxiously or are overprotective of their children. In addition, many people develop social anxiety after having hurtful or uncertain interactions with people, which lead to further uncertainty and self-doubt about social situations.
Brain Structure. The amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh), a structure in the brain, is believed to be related to fear and anxiety. In some people this part of the brain may be overactive, causing a heightened fear response, which causes an increase in anxiety.
Many people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder may experience panic attacks or panic attack symptoms. Panic attacks usually only last about 10 minutes but some of the symptoms may last longer. Once a person has a panic attack they are more likely to have another.
Panic Attack Symptoms
- Rapid heart beat
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or faint
- Tingling or numbness in hands and fingers
- Feeling terrified, sense of doom or death
- Sweating or chills
- Chest pain
- Difficulty Breathing
- Loss of control
How to Cope with Social Anxiety and Panic Attack Symptoms
Social anxiety and panic attack symptoms can feel overwhelming and scary. There are some things you can do to help.
Realize Anxiety is Natural. Anxiety is natural and learning about it can help you learn to manage it.
Keep a Journal. Keeping track of dates, times, and anxiety symptoms will help you better understand your social anxiety.
Breathing. Calm breathing is a technique that helps with calming quickly.
Muscle Relaxation. There is a technique that can be done that lowers overall tension and anxiety. The technique consists of tensing muscles and then relaxing them.
Realistic Thinking. As stated earlier, people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder may worry about negative things happening. These things that could happen are not facts but guesses. To do this you must identify your thoughts and fears. Once you have done this, you should ask yourself whether your guesses about what might happen are helping or hurting you.
Face your Fears. It is typical to try to avoid situations that cause anxiety. However, in the long run, that can make the anxiety about these situations worse. Facing these social situations repeatedly can lessen anxiety in the long term and build confidence.
Use What You Have Learned. Use what you have accomplished and keep doing it. Practicing these skills can help with relapse.
You shouldn’t wait to get help. Social Anxiety Disorder, like many other mental illnesses, may get harder to treat.
A psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner may prescribe you an antidepressant such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as:
Or they may prescribe an antidepressant called a SNRIs (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), such as
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – In cognitive behavioral therapy, you will work with your psychologist to identify your negative thoughts and change them. You will build your confidence, learn ways to cope with your anxiety, and get back into social situations where you felt anxious before.
- Other psychotherapy modalities may be more effective than CBT in your specific situation, especially if you have experienced a trauma that has led to some of your social anxiety. You and your anxiety specialist will work together to determine the most effective course of therapy for your situation.
Schedule an Appointment
At Stepwell Mental Health and Wellness, our licensed psychologists are trained in working with people that who experience Social Anxiety Disorder. Our highly specialized counselors will individually tailor your therapy to treat your social anxiety and panic attack symptoms.