Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Certain circumstances and situations may surface these feelings uniquely for everyone. One common form of anxiety is social anxiety, also known as social phobia, which is characterized by a fear of being watched or judged by others in social situations.
Roughly 12.1% of U.S. adults experience social anxiety in their lifetimes, and an estimated 7.1% experience symptoms of social anxiety disorder every year. The stresses of chronic social anxiety can lead to problems at work, school, with relationships, or other daily activities.
Thankfully, social anxiety can be overcome when treated properly. Here at SoCal Mental Health in Mission Viejo, we offer individualized psychiatric and psychotherapeutic treatments to help people overcome their social anxiety.
About Social Anxiety
Like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety can be a chronic illness that can disrupt one’s daily life if not taken care of. It is normal for a person to feel shy or nervous at times as individuals have different comfort in varying situations.
Telltale signs of a social anxiety disorder include avoidance of social situations. And, social anxiety disorders tend to begin in the teen years, though they can arise in adults or children as well.
Symptoms of social anxiety include emotional and behavioral symptoms, physical symptoms, and avoidance symptoms.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms might include:
- Fear or worry of humiliation, judgment, or embarrassing oneself
- Fear of social rejection or interaction with others
- Worry anticipating social activities or events
- Overanalyzing oneself after interacting in a social situation
- Expecting negative consequences from social situations
- Having one’s mind go blank at untimely times
- Low self-esteem and negative self-talk
- Sensitivity to criticism or trouble being assertive
- Substance abuse
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling and/or muscle tension
- Lightheadedness and/or trouble catching breath
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Avoiding strangers or new people
- Avoiding social gatherings
- Avoiding school or work
- Avoiding eye contact
- Avoiding dating
- Avoiding situations of conflict
Symptoms of social anxiety may change over time. Many people with social anxiety simply avoid situations, but this can worsen anxiety in these situations over time.
Causes and Risk Factors
Diagnosing the causes of one’s social anxiety may be complex. There may be life events that have led to this condition, and others may be more predisposed to it.
Possible causes and risk factors can include:
- Inheritance: Though it is unclear whether certain genes make one more likely to develop social anxiety, one’s family may influence learned behaviors and thought processes that lead to social anxiety.
- Brain chemistry: One’s brain may develop sensitivity to certain stimuli and release stress hormones and other responses that lead to heightened anxiety.
- Environmental: One’s environment (family, friends, school, work, etc.) may expose one to unpleasant situations or embarrassing circumstances.
- Negative experiences: A history of rejection, ridicule, bullying or humiliation may make a person more sensitive to certain social situations.
- Too much attention: Being overexposed to attention, whether online or in-person, can cause pressure and lead to avoidance. This may be due to other conditions or appearances that are noticeable by others.
Treating Social Anxiety
Psychotherapy for social anxiety might include certain types of exposure-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These practices involve cognitive restructuring, exposure, and social skills training. They intend to change the way you think and feel about certain situations and help you modify your behavior with coping mechanisms.
Another form of psychotherapy that can be useful in treating social anxiety is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which focuses more on mindfulness strategies and goal setting.
Medications for social anxiety might include antidepressants (SSRIs or SNRIs), beta-blockers, or other anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines. Antidepressants are often first-line medications used to treat persistent social anxiety. Beta-blockers may focus more on the physical symptoms of social anxiety. And, benzodiazepines are typically used as a short-term treatment since they work quickly but tend to cause dependency long-term.
Lifestyle changes for social anxiety might include endorphin-inducing activities, meditative techniques, diet change, caffeine avoidance, drug avoidance, better sleep, and striving for more social interaction. All of these practices focus on taking care of both your mind and body since the two are closely related, especially with social anxiety.
Please remember that social anxiety is not typically something that goes away without any of the above strategies. If you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety or social phobia, consider reaching out for professional help or talking with your doctor.
How We Can Help
SoCal Mental Health in Orange County offers a range of treatment options for those struggling with social anxiety. Our doctors can provide an individualized treatment plan that consists of psychotherapy, medication, and helping implement lifestyle changes conducive to improving social wellness.