Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. That “pit in the stomach” feeling of deep worry that many of us experience from time to time is never fun, and even more so when it’s visible to others. It’s normal to feel shy, a little uncomfortable before meeting new people, hesitate to voice opinions in large groups and have sweaty palms before speaking in public. But what happens when the “pit” becomes a ball of anxiety, consuming your thoughts and inhibiting your behavior around family and friends? You might be wondering: Do I have social anxiety disorder? And if you think you have the disorder, you may ask yourself: How can I treat social anxiety disorder?
Do I have a social anxiety disorder?
According to the DSM-V, social anxiety is defined as the “marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.”
One sign of having a social anxiety disorder is repeatedly finding yourself feeling overly fearful in social or performance situations. Experiences that may cause others some worry may feel very threatening to you; you may feel petrified and overly exposed, and find that you often avoid such situations or shut down in the presence of others.
If you or your child has social anxiety disorder, the anxiety may be so persistent and so crippling that it impacts your day-to-day functioning and interferes with your life. You might refrain from going out in public to places such as the mall, due to worry about whom you might encounter and how they will see you.
If you’re socially anxious, “stranger danger” takes on a meaning far deeper than the simple precaution it intended to convey to keep children safe. Unfamiliar faces, which carry the capacity to trigger an anxious episode, literally feel “dangerous.”
Typically, social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when symptoms last for at least six months. Many factors contribute to why some people develop social anxiety disorder and why others do not, such as parts of the brain involved in fear and anxiety, family history, misinterpreting social reactions or having undeveloped social skills may all play a role. The good news is social anxiety disorder is treatable! If you, your child or someone you know shows signs of having a social anxiety disorder, they may need help.
How can I treat social anxiety disorder?
- Foster optimism and resilience. It might be hard to see a light at the end of a long tunnel of negativity and fear. But creating a can-do attitude creates can-do behavior. Bouncing back from minor setbacks bounces you onto a path of forward progress.
- Maintain a sense of meaning. Instead of focusing on the anxiety-inducing details of a social experience, remember the purpose and positive result. You’re not just unnecessarily basking in an unpleasantly anxious situation; you’re meeting new people to network and further your relationships, your schoolwork or your career.
- Connect to family, place, culture and community. Feeling supported by your loved ones can help motivate you to move forward with your goals. Amid an overwhelming sea of unfamiliarity, knowing that you have the support of your loved ones as you face your fears can boost your confidence.
- Manage your thoughts from spiraling. Individuals with social anxiety often overestimate the likelihood that they will be intensely scrutinized and often have catastrophic fears that they will be humiliated in front of others. Such thoughts can lead to crippling feelings of anxiety. Catch these thoughts and tell yourself that having fears doesn’t mean they will come true and that it is possible that things will go better than you think and even if you feel awkward or things don’t go perfectly well, you can handle it.
- Face fears. Plunging into an unfamiliar and potentially awkward situation might be the last thing a person with a social anxiety disorder wants to do. However, research shows that avoiding these high-intensity experiences such as social interactions increases anxiety in the long run and prolongs the recovery process. The more social or performance situations are avoided, the harder it becomes to face such situations in the long run and to develop a sense of comfort and normalcy around them.
- Reward yourself when you overcome hurdles. It’s important to recognize and reward yourself when you face a social encounter despite feeling anxiety. This will go a long way in giving you the motivation to continue facing your fears.
- Seek help. CBC offers a comprehensive treatment program combining individual and group therapy to high schooler students and young adults struggling with social anxiety. If you are a high schooler or young adult or know of a high schooler or young adult in need of help, consider signing up for one of our winter, summer or fall groups and/or for individual sessions. For younger children and older adults struggling with social anxiety, many highly skilled are available to provide individual therapy.