Feeling anxiety around other people from time to time is extremely common – especially if it’s new people, or a large group.
But when does regular shyness become something more – and develop into social anxiety?
The answer is generally – when it begins interfering with your ability to live your life. If you are noticing you have excessive fear of situations where you may be judged, or you are concerned about humiliating yourself – and you have a physical reaction to the prospect of social situations (sweating, palpitations or heart racing) – you may have Social Anxiety Disorder.
As one of the most common types of anxiety, this is not something to despair about. A psychologist can help you to identify the triggers, manage your symptoms – and ultimately, overcome the anxiety.
Social Anxiety Disorder treatment can involve a range of therapies – including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and also Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Want to learn more?
Here are some key things to know about Social Anxiety Disorder – including details about causes, symptoms and treatments.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
For people with Social Anxiety Disorder (sometimes known as social phobia), speaking in front of others or certain social situations leads to intense anxiety.
This anxiety usually stems from fear of being judged, criticised, or laughed at in public – and it can happen even in everyday situations, like taking part in a meeting at work – or going out to dinner.
Research suggests that almost 11 per cent of the population in Australia experiences social phobia during their lifetime – and it is more common in women than in men.
What are the causes of Social Anxiety Disorder?
It is generally agreed there is no one cause to Social Anxiety Disorder, however there are several factors which could play you at an increased risk of developing it.
Genetics and family history of anxiety disorders can play a part – as well as past trauma (especially in childhood) such as bullying or abuse.
What are the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
When placed in a social situation, a person with social anxiety may experience symptoms of extreme anxiety. This could include:
- mentally blanking, not being able to articulate words
- rapid heart rate
- difficulty breathing
- nausea or stomach pain
- muscle cramps
- dry throat
- feeling faint or light-headed
- blurred vision.
If these symptoms go untreated and continue to become a common occurrence, it can have detrimental effects on your mental health. Constantly experiencing social anxiety and not feeling like you have any control can lead to negative self talk and feelings of doubt about your abilities.
It is these uncomfortable feelings which may lead you to stop putting yourself in situations that will trigger you. Unfortunately, this means you will often miss out on important events and isolate yourself even further.
When you avoid social situations, it affects your personal relationships. This can also lead to low self-esteem, depression and poor social skills that don’t improve. These long term impacts can sometimes develop into further harmful consequences, which may include substance abuse, curtailed education or employment opportunities and reluctance to leave the house.
Is there anything I can do to try and prevent Social Anxiety Disorder?
There are often going to be contributing factors outside your control that will lead to the development of Social Anxiety Disorder. However, preventing its occurrence can be put down to the same strategies we employ to avoid all illness in general – both mental and physical.
The basic foundations that contribute to health and wellness are sleep, nutrition, exercise – and social or spiritual connection. If you have adequate sleep, a good diet, exercise regularly and have a support network, your risk of developing Social Anxiety Disorder may be reduced.
Social Anxiety Disorder treatment – what is available?
There are a range of treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder including:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is often the treatment of choice due to its effectiveness and is provided by psychologists. One of the primary goals of CBT is to identify avoidance behaviours and encourage exposure to feared situations. Part of this process is to identify irrational thought patterns and replace them with more realistic ones. It helps you recognise that your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are all related.
By noticing unhelpful automatic thoughts and replacing them with alternative thoughts that are more rational and helpful, the person can then work to shift the way they feel and react in response. A variety of relaxation strategies are used in CBT as a part of the anxiety reduction treatment.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is another psychological treatment that helps lessen the impact of anxious thoughts in perpetuating the cycle of panic and anxiety.
The theory behind ACT suggests that once we stop trying to push back against our mind and accept our thoughts for what they are, it frees up more resources to be able to invest in who we want to be and how we want to think.
This means striving for self awareness and acceptance of any negative feelings, then making a conscious choice to commit to your values (e.g., building relationships or being genuine with others). ACT develops psychological flexibility and combines mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance.
Pharmacological Therapy. Anti-anxiety medication is also available as treatment under the supervision of a GP or psychiatrist. It is important to note that medication only treats symptoms. Symptoms can return after stopping the medication.
A combination of psychological therapies and medication may be recommended for people with severe symptoms.
Do you need professional help?
Recognising you are struggling is the first step. As is understanding how common anxiety in general is – and that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. What you are experiencing happens to many people across the world everyday.
The good news is, Social Anxiety Disorder is incredibly treatable. Just because you’ve been feeling a certain way for so long, doesn’t mean it has to continue.
An online psychologist is a convenient, effective way to receive treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. Our caring team here at Online PsychCare will take the time to listen to your challenges – and work with you to implement strategies to overcome them.
Get in touch if you’d like to begin your Social Anxiety treatment journey!