Meet Sarah, a young woman whose life is a delicate balance between longing for connection and the weight of social anxiety. In bustling streets, she’s a hidden observer, aware of every watchful eye. Ordering a coffee feels monumental, a battleground of imagined judgment. Her mind, a constant whirlwind of self-doubt, dissects every interaction. While she yearns to connect, an invisible barrier isolates her. Behind her composed facade lies a world of nervous fidgeting and racing thoughts. At home, she reflects on missed opportunities, torn between desire and fear. But Sarah is a fighter, seeking therapy and taking small steps toward breaking free from the grip of social anxiety, determined to discover the beauty of genuine connection and self-expression.
This is an AI-generated rough imagination of how a person with social anxiety might feel (it may not be fully accurate, it is just a rough visualization). Now, everyone might not have the same level of social anxiety as Sarah does some may have it in a more extreme sense, and some in a less extreme one. While some would not exactly have what one clinically diagnoses as social anxiety (as they only get anxious in certain social situations and not all) it could just be stress or nervousness. However, let’s first start with what is social anxiety to get a better idea of the term.
Before going further with this article please remember this is just an article to give you an idea about social anxiety disorder. Therefore do not make this article a medium to read the symptoms and self-diagnose or try to give yourself a treatment through the information. If during any part of this article, you feel that you can relate to some symptoms, please consult a known professional that is a psychiatrist or a psychologist, as they would be able to give you a correct diagnosis and mode of treatment.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety or social anxiety disorder is a prevailing and irrationally extreme fear of social situations where the individual might be scared of being exposed to and scrutinized by strangers (they feel extreme embarrassment feeling that others think they are stupid or cannot converse well)
One needs to understand that having social anxiety is different from being shy. The difference is that social anxiety can disrupt life to a great extent whereas shyness may not cause damage to the same extent despite it making it difficult for an individual to socialize in their personal as well as professional life. Social anxiety may even interfere with everyday activities like grocery shopping for they fear that they might have to interact with people there too.
Some of the common fears of people with a social anxiety disorder include socializing with new people, public speaking, and talking to people in authority (e.g. – teachers, managers, seniors, etc.). Social inhibition is one of the results of having social anxiety where the person while not being able to perform or speak in public, cannot even use public restrooms, eat in public, or can do any activities in front of others as it causes them anxiety and discomfort. Due to this they even take up jobs below their talents with limited social presence rather than taking up rewarding jobs that deal with social situations every day.
The prevalence of social anxiety begins during adolescence when social interactions start becoming an essential part of one’s lifestyle.
According to the research found in PloS one the prevalence of social anxiety worldwide was greater than 1 in 3 or thirty-six percent.
The Probable Causes of Social Anxiety
The exact cause of social anxiety disorder is still unknown however some of the possible causes include:
1. Behavioral Factors
The behavioral factors suggest that an individual could have had a negative social experience (some negative past experiences that invoked fear in them like getting bullied, public embarrassment, familial abuse, going blank during one’s public speech, etc.) thus making the person unconsciously conditioned and respond to such situations with fear and avoid them. The individual then starts maintaining such avoidant behavior as it lessens the fear that one experiences.
2. Cognitive Factors
Another cause could be cognitive factors as mentioned above individuals could have negative self-evaluations about the repercussions of their social behaviors. For instance, they might feel that others would think that they cannot express themselves well if they pause or blush and might ostracize them. Consequently, they attend more to what others are thinking based on what they are doing in social situations than attentively listening to what others are saying and this may form social awkwardness between the individual with social anxiety and the speaker as the speaker feels that they are not being heard. The subsequent anxiety interferes with their social performance thus generating a vicious cycle.
3. Genetic Factors
Various evidence also suggests that genetic factors could be involved in the prevalence of social anxiety disorder. It is observed that there is an increased risk of the prevalence of social anxiety in children of parents with this disorder. However, research indicates that these family genetics may indicate a higher likelihood of experiencing internalizing issues (which individuals experience internally, often without displaying obvious external behavioral problems) generally instead of a specific risk for social anxiety.
Moreover, in a few studies, even an overprotective parenting style and avoidance and fear modeling by parents have been linked to the possibility of the development of social anxiety disorder.
However, social anxiety disorder can be reduced through a lot of treatments found nowadays.
Treatment of Social Anxiety
It is of utter importance to consult a therapist or psychiatrist if you feel that you relate to the symptoms of social anxiety, Do not self-diagnose yourself as an individual with social anxiety disorder or try to self-treat yourself with psychological or professional treatments (that you are totally unaware of) unless the psychiatrist or psychologist has diagnosed you with it or explained and given you to practice the complex treatment.
There are two types of treatments one can use or take help of when suffering from social anxiety disorder – those which are performed and prescribed by psychiatrists or psychologists and others that can accompany the professional treatments and can be done by the individuals themselves to help in bringing marginal progress (these can also be used by individuals who only experience shyness or nervousness and do not experience extreme symptoms causing social anxiety disorder). There are also other points that one should keep in mind that aid in making treatment more effective.
5:4:3 Rule To Reduce Your Social Anxiety
This is a simple grounding technique that accompanies clinical treatment to help reduce anxiousness. It is used to relieve or distract oneself on the spot for a short amount from anxious thoughts and feelings. All this technique needs the individual to do is ask the person who is feeling anxious to search for and name five things that they are able to, four things that they are able to touch, three things that they can hear, two things that they can smell and one thing that they are able to taste. Additionally, they need to take deep breaths in between saying things.
This grounding technique basically is a calming strategy for all ages and also helps a lot in reducing cortisol (a hormone released during stress) release.
Furthermore, it is also found that grounding techniques detach an individual from emotional pain and help in emotional regulation. And it also helps elevate the mood of people with anxiety as compared to only relaxation. Lastly, the best part of this technique is that one can use them without anyone else around them knowing that they are using it. So keep practicing this technique to deal with anxiousness, the more you practice the more quickly you will jump back from your spiral.
Clinical treatments include the treatments prescribed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist. These treatments should always be effected under clinical supervision. These could comprise
Exposure therapy in the most basic sense is that an individual must encounter what they are most scared to encounter as the unconscious fear could then only be overcome if one confronts the fear with all their vulnerability and is up for discovering the cause with the therapist and finding ways to reduce it.
This treatment usually starts with role-playing or practicing with the psychologist in a group therapy setting with a small group before going on to social situations that are more public. Prolonged exposure to this kind of systematic desensitization to larger crowds helps reduce and eventually get rid of anxiety. Along with this, an individual with social anxiety is also given social skills training in which they are taught how to act, appear, and speak in social situations. All their previous safety behaviors (like avoiding eye contact) are taught to avoid or extinguish and the opposite is enforced. Ultimately exposure is one of the main aspects of many cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT).
2. Cognitive therapy
Psychologist David M. Clark in 1997 developed a cognitive therapy version for the treatment of social anxiety disorder that expands on various other treatments in some ways. In this treatment, the client is taught to avoid focusing their attention internally and battle their negative self-perception through the eyes of others. It was observed that this technique was more effective than exposure therapy plus relaxation and even a better treatment as compared to the antidepressant fluoxetine.
Some psychiatrists also prescribe drugs to individuals with extreme cases of social anxiety disorder. However, these drugs should not be taken unless prescribed by psychiatrists as they possess side effects that in some cases and quantity could be fatal to the patient. Some of the common prescription drugs to help lessen anxiety symptoms and effects include antidepressants (like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines (like Xanax).
Aids to increase the effect of treatment
There are various aids to treatments that could be used to make the impact of treatment faster and more persistent in overpowering social anxiety. One of the known and effective supplements is:
In order to reduce the social anxiety causing cortisol release one needs to make healthy changes in their lifestyle. For instance, one should get enough sleep in order to have the energy to socialize. Socializing drains a lot of social battery of some people depending on their personal traits like shyness, nervousness, etc.
Next is limiting or avoiding too much caffeine intake as it is found that excessive caffeine consumption makes an individual more jittery and anxious. One could also join a group of people who are working on their social anxiety and creating goals to achieve (like Alcoholics Anonymous) or start participating in social events with people whom they are close to and feel comfortable with. This will help them have a less negative self-perception.
Lastly, one also needs to limit their consumption of alcohol if social anxiety is an issue for them. As much as alcohol seems to ease social anxiety it has ramifications as an average amount of alcohol can also intensify the anxiety feelings because at one point it would be completely for one to socialize without alcohol.
There are many more ancillary treatments that accompany reducing the prevalence and symptoms of social anxiety, some of which is eating the right food to know more about this you read our article 10 Best Foods To Eat Before A Presentation To Reduce Anxiety
Social anxiety is not an untreatable disorder and it can get better. A lot of people with this condition can observe substantial improvements in themselves with appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and support. Therefore it is important to take help to reduce social anxiety for a smoother life ahead.
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