Some people crave social gatherings and being in someone else’s company. They thrive in those environments, but many others don’t. In fact, millions of people avoid such situations, fearful of their own behavior and paranoid about self-embarrassment. Feelings begin taking over their everyday lives, likely a sign of social anxiety.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER?

People with social anxiety are tremendously nervous about what they might say or do in someone else’s presence. This could be public speaking and daily social interactions, but it’s more than just shyness or anxiety before public speaking. The fear can start weeks or months prior to an event. It can lead to a quick heartbeat and a lack of focus. While some people only fear certain situations, others have many kinds affecting their quality of life.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Social anxiety is characterized by fear, nervousness, and avoiding someone or something that restricts relationships, daily life, work, school, or other interests. Common types of symptoms include emotional and behavioral, physical, and avoidance, such as:

Behavioral and emotional symptoms

  • Fear of circumstances where you could be judged poorly
  • Worry over upsetting or humiliating yourself
  • Extreme fear of social interaction or conversing with strangers
  • Fear that someone else will see that you appear anxious

Physical symptoms

  • Blushing
  • Quick heartbeat
  • Quivering
  • Sweating
  • Queasy stomach or nausea
  • Problems catching your breath

Avoidance symptoms

  • Intermingling with different people or strangers
  • Partaking in parties or social events
  • Attending school or work 
  • Beginning conversations
  • Making eye contact with another person
  • Entering somewhere in which people have already been seated

For someone with social anxiety, even a few symptoms which happen daily can have damaging consequences on all aspects of their lives. Fortunately, treatment is available.

CAUSES

Social anxiety sometimes appears in families, but it’s uncertain why one member gets it, and another doesn’t. Researchers believe that many parts of the brain are involved in its development. Misreading social cues is another possible cause. You may believe someone’s staring at you when they’re not, which speaks more of underdeveloped social skills than another’s behavior; or you could feel discouraged even before you start talking to someone out of fear and imagined embarrassment.

DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT

Diagnosis largely depends on a physical exam and a mental health evaluation. The goal of both is to uncover any underlying conditions which cause symptoms, including injuries, physical ailments, or personal or family history of mental illness. In both cases, your healthcare provider will compare your symptoms to criteria in the DSM-5 from 2013.

Once diagnosis is complete, your healthcare provider can begin a discussion regarding different kinds of treatment. Depending on symptoms, duration of the symptoms, and your mental and physical health, you may be presented with options including psychotherapy, self-help, lifestyle changes, or even something like ketamine infusion.

HOW DO YOU TREAT SOCIAL ANXIETY?

One of the things that makes social anxiety so dangerous is its ability to convince you that you’re alone, or that something’s wrong with you. Neither is true. In fact, social anxiety affects millions of people. We all get anxious at one point or another; how we decide to react is unique and drives whether social anxiety rules our lives. 

Be inquisitive

If you notice thoughts are triggering anxiety, ask yourself if the situation is true, or is it just a story you’re telling yourself? Recognize which thoughts are evidence-based, rather than emotional. Jot down thoughts to revisit them later.

Take care of yourself physically

Social anxiety can affect your heartbeat, breathing, and other biochemical and physical responses your brain interprets as evidence of something wrong. Work to slow those emotions down with exercise, breathing strategies, and meditation. Basically, this also amounts to relaxing on purpose and trying out techniques to promote feelings of relaxation. They can be done anytime, anywhere.

Create a healing environment for yourself

This may involve painting a room in soothing colors, allowing natural sunlight inside, or realizing that it’s okay to not be obsessed with your mobile phone or social media feeds.

Finally, be willing to be open about your feelings and talk through what’s happening. You might find solace talking with a therapist, close friend, or a local support network.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Social anxiety is more than occasional fear or worrying about saying something inappropriate or embarrassing yourself. It’s a mental health condition where you feel out of control and are constantly worried – every day – and it harms all aspects of your life. Fortunately, therapy like ketamine infusion may help control your symptoms. 

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