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Social Anxiety Counseling and Treatment

Social Anxiety Counseling and Treatment

Do you feel anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed in social situations? Do you think you have social anxiety? Read this post to find out more about it.

This post covers information on what social anxiety is, major causes of it, physical symptoms, different types of treatments, what can you do to deal and heal from anxious thoughts and self- help for social anxiety.

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What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Many people feel anxious or uncomfortable on different social occasions like public speaking, gatherings, parties, presentations, or job interviews, etc. There is a stigma that social anxiety is shyness or occasionally being nervous. But it is not.

Social anxiety involves intense fear of facing certain social situations which may not be comfortable for the person experiencing it. There is a constant fear in mind that what if things go wrong, what if people think badly about them, what if others judge them for their actions and performance, what if they get rejected or ignored. It impacts their thought process, makes them overthink or over-worry about a certain situation, and feel less confident to deal with it. When they find it hard and feel clueless about what to do, they start avoiding such social situations altogether.

Major Causes It?

You may feel that you are the only one who is experiencing this uncomfortable and overwhelming feeling. But, you are not alone. As per the studies, social anxiety is fairly common, occurring in as much as 13% of the population. It may coexist with other mental health challenges like depression, trauma, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc. Many struggles with it. But, the situations that trigger this fear or anxiety can be different for everyone.

Some experience anxious thoughts in most social situations of everyday life while some experience it in specific social situations like talking to someone, interacting in gatherings, hanging out at parties, etc. Some of the major triggers of social anxiety are meeting new people, participating in small talks, public speaking, stage performance, being the center of the spotlight, talking with influencing figures and being scrutinized by others around them.

Types of Treatments

The triggers can be different for everyone and so the treatments need to be. There is no one solution or cure for everyone. Before one receives treatment for social anxiety, it is important to get it diagnosed and identify the triggers that cause social anxiety. It is advised not to take any medications without a physician, therapist, or psychologist’s approval. Because They are the experts and can guide you on what medications, their dosage, and time period for it.

People who do not respond better to medications, they may find other treatments helpful. This is why it is important to consult and communicate with your therapist or provider and discuss how you are feeling and treatment going on.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be one of the first-choice treatments for people struggling with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). Many studies suggest that CBT is significantly helpful to improve social anxiety symptoms. The Exposure Therapy of Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the effective one to improve and manage multiple types of anxiety conditions.

For some people, the combined form of Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication proved to be helpful. A [randomized controlled trial RCT showed that trialing CBT with medications was successful in improving the anxiety conditions.

Support Groups or Self Help Groups can also be helpful in supporting people with social anxiety disorder. Under this, one is listened to, supported, and encouraged to take their small steps to recovery and share their challenges and accomplishments while listening and supporting others who are going through similar challenges or problems.

Healing From Anxious Thoughts

Living with social anxiety can be challenging. The anxious thoughts keep you overwhelmed and distracted from your progress path but the good news is you can heal and deal with these anxious thoughts. All you need is to try and take your small steps.

  1. Seek help Despite what others may think, if you are experiencing anxiety, it is okay to seek help. You may do a lot to deal with it but seeking help and support is a good place to start. The help and support could be in the form of reaching out to your friend and sharing with them how you are feeling and talking, joining online self-help groups, offline self-help groups, or reaching out and seeking professional help from either a therapist or counselor.

  2. Identify Your Triggers Social anxiety triggers aren't the same for everyone. This is why it is important to start listing social situations or activities that cause you the most discomfort. When you are able to pinpoint triggers, you are able to figure out solutions to deal with them as well.

  3. Rewire Challenging Thoughts Thoughts can be challenging and negative when experiencing social anxiety. Chances are you might be overthinking or over worrying about anything and everything. This is why it is helpful to replace your negative and challenging thoughts with positive and encouraging ones. You can do it by using the Realistic Thinking Technique which involves asking yourself certain questions about what causes you social anxiety or discomfort and offering balanced and honest responses to them. Instead of thinking, “I cannot do this today”, you may start replacing it with an encouraging thought like, “I am looking forward to learning more about others.”

  4. Take Small Steps When it comes to dealing with social anxiety, it is okay to start with small steps and make little changes. Instead of thinking about making big leaps and changes, you may find small changes and steps helpful and empowering. Like instead of thinking about the whole presentation, try to focus and think only about the one-minute presentation or one slide.

Your Body Will React and Fight: The Physical Symptoms

When you experience social anxiety, it not only impacts you mentally and emotionally but also affects you physically. The physical symptoms of a social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be stressful.

The most common physical symptoms are chest pain, chest tightness, blurred vision, dizziness, dry mouth, sweating, headaches, palpitations (heart pounding), nausea, muscle tension, shaking, shortness of breath, ringing in the ear, tingling, feelings of unreality, trembling voice, trembling legs, lump in the throat, etc.

For some, these physical symptoms can be intense enough to trigger panic attacks. Along With physical symptoms, one also experiences cognitive and behavioral symptoms too. The cognitive symptoms include negative beliefs, thoughts, and biases that make one feel like they are not good enough to participate in specific activities or can be a good performer. While behavioral symptoms involve choices and decisions that one makes based on fear and avoiding social situations altogether. These choices may not be rational ones or consider one’s ambitions, preferences, wants, or desires.

Dealing with Anxiety and Feelings of Fear Through Psychotherapy

Social anxiety is a mental health condition and it is not always possible to know all by yourself. You may be able to do and manage a lot on your own but getting professional help is a good place to start as well.

A trained mental health professional (therapists, counselors, or psychologists) can help and support you by offering more detailed insight and information on the mental health condition. They can help you identify your social anxiety triggers and what you could do to manage or improve them, help you learn coping strategies, social skills, and mindfulness and relaxation techniques as well. Also, they can offer you support and encouragement in the tough times and guide you to replace your challenging thoughts with well-balanced ones. An online therapist would help you provide the right framework or treatment plan to deal with it. They would be able to diagnose the unique factors that cause you to feel anxious. And constantly work with you to plan correct steps and strategies to cope up with it. Some forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy help you cope up with the specific situations that might be causing you the feeling of social anxiety or social phobia.

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health challenge that is one of the common challenges for many. It negatively impacts people’s lives, relationships, careers, work-life balance, daily activities, etc. However, one can progress and grow while they handle and deal with social anxiety triggers. It is all about small steps and knowing every single step counts. You are not alone in this journey.

Featured Contributors

Scott Fantucchio, LMHC

Scott is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field.

Lisa Meighan, MBPsS

Lisa is a licensed mental health counselor with an eclectic style of therapy to fit every client

Ilene S. Cohen, PhD

Ilene S. Cohen, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, professor, blogger, and author of the popular self-help guides, "When It's Never About You" and "It's Within You."