If you think you might - or know someone else who may - be suffering from social anxiety, finding the answers you need may not be an easy process. It can be difficult to decide whether what you’re feeling is anxiety or shyness, what the symptoms are, and what options for treatment are available.
This guide, while not intended as a substitute for treatment, is a helpful starting point for socially anxious individuals looking for answers and insight about how they’re feeling.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), social anxiety is “ a fear of social situations in which embarrassment may occur or there is a risk of being negatively evaluated by others”.
When the anxiety causes serious emotional and mental distress and interferes with a person’s ability to function and live their life, it may be indicative of a social anxiety disorder.
Research is ongoing regarding exactly what causes a person to develop SAD, but evidence suggests that there may be a combination of risk factors that increase someone’s chances of developing it:
- A family history of anxiety-related disorders or broader mental health challenges.
- Exposure to traumatic, stressful, or negative events.
- Socioeconomic environment and upbringing.
- Personality and temperamental traits.
As a result of this complex interplay of different factors, a person may develop a unique set of triggers that can make day-to-day life extremely challenging.
How to Know If You Have SAD
Feeling anxious about meeting people, socialising, and potentially embarrassing yourself in front of others does not necessarily mean someone has an anxiety disorder.
When these feelings begin to interfere with and negatively impact a person’s mental wellbeing and quality of life for an ongoing period, it could point to SA disorder.
A mental health professional would then evaluate the person based on their symptoms and circumstances to confirm whether it is a disorder or not, and whether it’s being caused by SAD or something else.
Remember to never self-diagnose. Always speak to a doctor or qualified mental health professional if you think you might be suffering from SA disorder.
Treatment for Social Anxiety
The good news is SA disorder is a treatable disorder, and it is possible to overcome it and live a normal life. There are several treatment options for SA disorder, which include forms of therapy and medication.
Psychotherapy is a form of therapy primarily driven by talking. A form of psychotherapy known as Cognitive-behavioural Therapy is extremely effective in helping patients overcome their social anxiety disorders.
Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the relationship between an individual’s thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and actions. It does this by teaching the patient new thought patterns and ways to perceive and interpret ideas and concepts.
CBT aims to help patients:
- Learn to identify specific situations that cause anxiety and understand why it happens.
- Identify irrational or negative thoughts the patient has about them self or their worth and abilities.
- Adopt more balanced and positive views about themselves.
- Learn new ways to react and cope with situations they might find stressful or anxiety-inducing.
Exposure Therapy has also been shown to be effective in treating SAD. It’s a form of therapy in which a person is gradually exposed to situations that act as triggers for them by a therapist within a safe and structured environment.
Three types of prescribed medication could be recommended for treating SAD:
- Anti-anxiety medications - get to work quickly and start showing results soon after the patient begins taking them. However, patients can build up a tolerance to them over time, requiring a higher dosage for the same effect, thus there is a risk of them becoming habit-forming.
- Antidepressant medications - may take several weeks to months to start producing results, but have a far lower risk of patients developing dependence. Antidepressants may cause patients to feel side effects, but this is not always the case.
- Beta-Blockers - help to prevent the physical symptoms of anxiety, like sweating, trembling, and a pounding heart. This is the medication often used to assist in managing anxiety related to performance.
Never take any kind of medication for social anxiety without the consultation and prescription of a licensed psychiatrist.
With access to accurate information and the right tools and resources, it is possible to overcome SAD and lead a normal, socially active, and happy life.
Feeling ready to overcome your social anxiety? Check out our empathetic, results-driven course on social anxiety here.