What Is Social Anxiety And How Does It Get Better?

What is Social Anxiety?

It is common to feel nervous in some social situations. Many people feel anxious going on a date, interviewing for a job, or giving a presentation. However, in contrast to shyness or nervousness, social anxiety disorder is characterized by significant fear, worry, and avoidance of social interactions that interferes with school, work, relationships, and other activities.

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • fear of being negatively evaluated or judged
  • worry about being embarrassed or humiliated
  • fear of anxiety being noticeable to others; fear of blushing, sweating, or trembling in front of others
  • significant anxiety interacting with strangers
  • fear of offending others
  • avoiding being the center of attention
  • avoiding completing tasks or speaking in front of others
  • experiencing anxiety leading up to social situations
  • ruminating or spending time analyzing social interactions after they have occurred
  • refusal to speak, tantrums, crying and difficulty separating from parents (in children)

The following situations may be particularly anxiety provoking for people with social anxiety:

  • being introduced to people
  • meeting authority figures or other important people
  • making eye contact
  • initiating conversations
  • being “in the spotlight” or the center of attention
  • being teased
  • receiving criticism
  • writing while being watched
  • eating in front of others
  • returning an item to a store
  • being called on to answer a question or read aloud
  • activities that involve “going around the room” and saying something
  • using a public restroom
  • dating
  • attending parties
  • entering a room full of people who are already seated

People with social anxiety often experience physiological symptoms when they are anxious. Common examples include: blushing, racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, trembling, muscle tension, facial twitches, diarrhea and nausea.

Who does Social Anxiety Affect?

Social Anxiety Disorder is much more common than once believed. Approximately 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder. Following depression and alcoholism, social anxiety ranks as the third most prevalent psychological disorder in the United States, and it is the most common anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder affects men and women equally and it typically has an early age of onset. It is estimated that approximately 50% of individuals with social anxiety develop symptoms by age 11 and approximately 80% develop symptoms by age 20 years. Like many anxiety disorders, social anxiety is believed to be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Brain imagining studies have also identified differences in the brain among individuals with social anxiety.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

Social Anxiety Disorder is typically diagnosed by a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, or other mental health treatment provider. A 2007 survey conducted by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicated that 36% of people with social anxiety disorder experienced symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help. People with social anxiety disorder often report feeling powerless and hopeless, but the good news is that, like other anxiety disorders, social anxiety is very treatable.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been identified as effective treatment for social anxiety disorder in countless research studies. Several medications have also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of social anxiety disorder and are often used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. A psychiatrist can help determine if medication might be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a collaborative, goal-oriented approach to treatment. Emphasis is placed on skill development and therapy is generally short-term and solution focused. The cognitive component of therapy involves learning, thought restructuring, and skill development. The behavioral component of therapy involves gradual exposure to anxiety provoking social situations. For many people with social anxiety, participation in an exposure-based CBT group is a crucial component of treatment. In exposure-based CBT group therapy, participants voluntarily practice “real life” situations that cause anxiety. It is very important that the group only consists of people with social anxiety disorder and exposures should be planned and structured. The best social anxiety groups will include out of the office outings. These outings usually occur at restaurants, malls, university campuses, or shopping centers. These settings provide a natural environment to practice planned exposures. Exposure-based CBT group therapy allows group members to develop skills and confidence interacting in social situations.

Getting Started

Our “Creating Confidence” adolescent social anxiety group will begin at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, November 9th at our Round Rock office. Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services also provides exposure-based CBT group therapy for adults and we have group therapy at both our Round Rock and Austin offices.

If you are interested in learning more about Social Anxiety Disorder, enrolling in a social anxiety group, or scheduling an individual appointment with a social anxiety specialist at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services please call (512) 246-7225 or email us at [email protected].

1 thought on “What Is Social Anxiety And How Does It Get Better?”

  1. It was fascinating to read more about how the anxiety disorder is treated. Looking to get diagnosed before trying to get treatment is a great idea. I think that my sister might like knowing this as she looks into treatments for a loved one.

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