Tips for Coping with Social Anxiety

A Healthier Michigan

| 4 min read

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Over 40 million Americans 18 and older are affected by an anxiety disorder, and many children as well. 15 million Americans struggle with social anxiety disorder specifically, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is also common for someone with anxiety to also struggle with depression, although they do not always correlate.

How does social anxiety manifest or affect individuals?

Social anxiety involves a constant or regular fear or worry over social embarrassment, scrutiny, or humiliation, especially in public settings, according to the NIMH. The fears range from fear of being judged, to fear of showing the symptoms of anxiety, to a fear of general embarrassment, amongst other anxieties and fears. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, over 35% of people with social anxiety disorder experience symptoms for up to a decade or longer before they seek treatment.
Social anxiety can cause serious disruption to a person’s quality of life, with most adults with social anxiety reporting moderate impairment from their symptoms or anxiety. 30% of adults with social anxiety report serious impairment as a result.
Social anxiety symptoms can manifest in many ways, but according to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common include:
  • fear of situations or scenarios being embarrassing or awkward
  • worrying about humiliation
  • fear or talking with others especially strangers
  • fear of physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, or an unsteady voice
  • avoiding social interactions or events
  • anxiety leading up to interactions or events
  • intensely critical self-evaluation or self-analysis
  • expecting the worst outcomes in social situations

What are ways to cope with social anxiety?

If social anxiety is getting in the way of your everyday life and involvement in the things important to you, you should talk to your care team about approaches or treatments for social anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some ways you can help yourself through periods of social anxiety include:
  • Practice public speaking or find a support group for public speaking skills.
  • Gradually expose yourself to situations that trigger social anxiety.
  • Ask your loved ones and support system for help.
  • Be kind and patient with yourself.
  • learn about panic attacks and how to deal with them
According to the Cleveland Clinic, self-advocacy and self-contained coping systems are important to tackling social anxiety, but you may need professional help from your care team in the form of therapy or medication.

What are treatment strategies for social anxiety?

When coping strategies are not sufficient or broad enough to ease social anxiety or its symptoms, treatment plans might be needed to help through periods of social anxiety. This can include support groups and therapy to help the mental and emotional side of social anxiety, or medication to affect how your body responds to or receives anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy can be an individual or group focused therapy. CBT involves identifying and changing patterns of thoughts or perceptions that guide reactions to anxiety. The goal is to equip the patient with the skills and strength needed to react positively to stressors or triggers of social anxiety, according to the National Social Anxiety Center. The target of CBT is better control and understanding of your own thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. It can also help build better social skills, according to the NIMH.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT or acceptance commitment therapy is a different therapeutic approach to social anxiety than CBT. Less data is available on ACT, but it may be effective for some, according to the NIMH. This method places an emphasis on mindfulness and setting realistic goals for yourself. It also teaches tools such as “cognitive defusing” or the act of recognizing thoughts as just that, a thought and not reality or the way things truly are. This may help with negative self-thoughts and assumptions about the ways other people view you, according to the National Social Anxiety Center.

Medications for social anxiety

Your care team may deem medications as an alternative or supplemental form of treatment to therapy or self-guided approaches. There are many different medications and types of medications that can be prescribed for social anxiety and its symptoms; according to the NIMH, the most prescribed types of medication for social anxiety include:
  • Antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Anti-anxiety meds like benzodiazepines

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