Social Anxiety Disorder, also called social phobia. is the fear of social situations that involve being the centre of attention and interacting with other people. It is one of the largest mental health care problems, affecting approximately 7% of the population. People diagnosed with this mental health problem have trouble developing friendships, show poor performance at school, and have low confidence in social gatherings.
Social phobia is a problem that commonly develops in early adolescence, but can also begin in elementary school years. Teenagers who experience stressful and embarrassing moments over a prolonged period of time are more likely to develop social phobia.
Symptoms of social phobia commonly fall under three categories:
Physical symptoms: what happens to your body when in social situations and even after
- Having red flush appear on face, neck, and arms
- Talking incredibly fast to avoid awkward silence
- Heart palpitation
- Feeling nauseous
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Jaw clenching
- Difficulty catching one’s breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Muscle tension
- Dissociation and feeling that your mind has gone blank
Cognitive symptoms: your thought patterns
- Dysfunctional thoughts including self-doubt in feared situations
- A tendency to disregard any opportunity to have positive social interaction
- Negative evaluation of oneself in feared social situations
- Strongly held beliefs about one’s inability to interact comfortably in performance-
- related situations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Confusion and unease
Behavioural symptoms: the way you act in certain situations
- Intense fear of being in situations where one will be surrounded by strangers
- Fear of situations where you may be judged by others
- Worrying about humiliating oneself
- Avoiding situations in which one will be the centre of attention
- Limiting experiences where one will be required to speak with unknown people
- Escaping a social situation
- Fear that other people will notice awkward behaviour such as trembling and
- Overthinking one’s behaviour and regretting flaws in interaction after attending a
- social gathering
- Expecting extremely negative consequences after a previous bad experience
- Feeling anxious in anticipation of a feared social situation
All the symptoms mentioned above are caused by the amygdala sending an alert to the brain that a threat is present. This, in turn, triggers a fight or flight response which causes an increase in heart rate and a boost to one’s reflexes.
If you suffer the symptoms of social phobia regularly, it is vital to seek help and find ways to cope with it. Here, we outline some of the ways to overcome the overwhelming feeling of social anxiety:
6 Proactive Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
Below are some great ways to overcome social anxiety and improve your social health:
1. Breathe it out
One of the physical symptoms of social phobia is shortness of breath. When your body is tense, it interrupts your breathing as a response to stress. To counter this overwhelming feeling of stress, try focusing on your breathing.
Deep breathing is an effective technique for relieving anxiety because of its effect on the nervous system. To practice deep breathing, find a relaxed environment that is free from distractions. Start by taking a long breath in through your nose to fill your lungs, then hold your breath for three seconds.
After a short pause, exhale slowly through pursed lips, allowing the muscles in your face to relax. If you notice your mind wandering somewhere else, switch your focus back on breathing in and out.
2. Try a self-help manual
While there is no replacement for counselling when dealing with mental problems such as social anxiety disorder, self-help books can supplement conventional treatments. Self-help manuals are written with the intention of helping readers improve some aspect of their lives that may be causing social phobia or anxiety. Through the practical advice outlined in these books, people are encouraged to check in with themselves periodically. This is a vital step in overcoming anxietyovercoming anxiety.
3. Get enough sleep
Adequate sleep is vital to good mental health. But if you find that your social phobia is causing you to lose sleep, then you need to address the sleep problems through the help of your physician. Mental health professionals can suggest an action plan, medication, and mindfulness meditation to calm your mind and help you sleep through the night.
4. Work with a therapist
If you have reached a point where social phobia has started to decrease your quality of life, and you haven’t had much success with self-help methods, then it may be time to seek the help of mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you manage your social anxiety problem by allowing you to learn the correlation between your thoughts and behaviours that follow.
From your very first cognitive behavioural session, you will get the chance to define your goals and bring up any concerns you might have. How long you need to attend therapy sessions will depend on the goals you set at the start of the session. Common goals from this type of therapy include:
- A better relationship with other people
- Improved social skills
- Reduced social anxiety Symptoms improvement
5. Face your fears
One of the many treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder is exposure therapy. The concept of this treatment revolves around confronting your fears by breaking the pattern of avoidance. The exposure to feared situations and activities can help decrease excessive fear and weaken previously held beliefs about feared situations.
With the guidance of a therapist, you can create an exposure hierarchy in which you can list situations, objects, and activities that cause you anxiety. The list begins with the moderately difficult behaviour, then progresses to the more severe ones. In creating your hierarchy list, try thinking of anxiety-provoking activities and situations and rate each of them on a 10-point scale (10 being the situations that cause the most fear). The list may include things such as starting a conversation with a stranger in a social setting or being introduced to other people.
6. Challenge unhelpful thoughts
It is not uncommon for people with social phobia to have negative thoughts that are outside their control. Thoughts that can have an impact not only on your social anxiety level but also on your overall way of life. It is therefore important to keep in mind that you can always challenge these unhelpful thoughts and perceive them as just thoughts that do not always represent facts.