What Is Social Anxiety? And 4 Ways to Overcome It

Social Anxiety

As our society opens up again following the pandemic, feelings of social anxiety are understandably on the rise. Adolescents and teens are heading back to the classroom after months and months of online learning. Adults are returning to offices after working from home for a lengthy period. And social gatherings are making a comeback—from dinner parties to weddings to large-scale concerts and sporting events. It all adds up to increased anxiousness about socializing. For some people, it’s debilitating.

When uncomfortable anxious feelings persist or intensify, it’s a sign of trouble. When you routinely avoid meeting new people or your fears and worries interfere with daily life, it’s an indicator of social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia.

When you routinely avoid meeting new people or your fears and worries interfere with daily life, it’s an indicator of social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Click To Tweet

Social phobias are the most common form of phobia, affecting an estimated 15 million adults in the U.S. Social anxiety disorder involves intense self-consciousness in social situations and worry that others are watching and judging you. This can disrupt everyday activities and makes it challenging to develop and maintain friendships and relationships.

WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER?

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that involves intense and irrational fears of being criticized or judged, debilitating anxiousness, and deep shame or embarrassment. These distressing emotions are so strong they interfere with everyday living and get in the way of relationships, school, and career success. Ultimately, they can keep you from reaching your potential in life.

How does this differ from ordinary shyness? Depending on personality types, some people are less outgoing and more reserved than others. People who are shy may prefer solitary hobbies and working independently, however, shyness doesn’t negatively impact their life. For those with social anxiety, even routine situations—such as eating in front of others, asking for directions, or using a public restroom—can ramp up feelings of angst.

SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY

There are many physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder.

Physical symptoms include:

  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Perspiring
  • Blushing
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Trouble speaking or only being able to speak in a very soft voice
  • A rigid body stance

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Feeling like your mind has “gone blank”
  • Intense fear of situations where you might be judged negatively
  • Trying to blend into the background
  • Feeling self-conscious in the presence of others
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Worrying excessively about upcoming social events

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with distress in social situations
  • Skipping school or work to avoid uncomfortable situations
  • Repeatedly declining invitations to social events

These symptoms may range from mild to severe, and people with social phobia may experience only some of them.

WHAT CAUSES SOCIAL ANXIETY?

As is the case with many other mental health conditions, social anxiety is believed to be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors.

  • Family history: Mental health issues such as anxiety disorders tend to run in families. Researchers are still investigating how genetics may be involved in the process.
  • Brain function: The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that overactivity in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia is associated with anxiety. The basal ganglia are involved in integrating feelings, thoughts, and movements. This region plays a role in why you tremble when you’re nervous, freeze when you’re frightened, or get tongue-tied on a date. When there is too much activity in the basal ganglia, people are more likely to be anxious or overwhelmed in stressful situations. Overactivity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, is also linked to increased risk anxiety and social phobia.
  • Anxious role models: Experts believe that social anxiety may be a learned trait, especially if a person’s parents modeled anxious behavior in social settings.
  • Negative experiences: Adverse childhood experiences—such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; family conflict; or being bullied, rejected, or teased—may contribute to the development of social anxiety. Experiencing extremely embarrassing moments or deep humiliation can also play a role in the onset of social phobia.

CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED SOCIAL PHOBIA

When social anxiety disorder remains untreated, it can have devastating consequences in important areas of your life. It can negatively impact your relationships and family life, your career, schoolwork, and overall happiness. In particular, untreated social phobia can lead to:

If you have social anxiety, you may also have co-occurring mental health conditions, such as other types of anxiety, depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia, or eating disorders.

OVERCOMING SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER

If you have social anxiety disorder, there is hope for healing. Taking a comprehensive bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to treatment is important.

  • Biological: Eat a healthy diet and avoid caffeine and sugary foods that can increase anxiousness. Also, have your healthcare provider check your thyroid levels as imbalances with this important hormone can be associated with anxiety.
  • Psychological: Several forms of psychotherapy can be beneficial in treating this condition. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you retrain your brain to think, act, and react differently in social situations. Learning to “Kill the ANTs,” the automatic negative thoughts that infest your mind and ruin your day, is a powerful strategy to change unhelpful thinking patterns. In addition, treating any co-existing mental health conditions is key to overcoming social phobia.
  • Social: Talk about your fears and worries with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Spiritual: Having a deep sense of passion and purpose can lead to an overall sense of calm. When you feel anxious, focus on meaningful and goal-directed activities.

By addressing all of these areas of your life, you will be better able to overcome social anxiety.

Social anxiety, other types of anxiety or phobias, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

11 Comments »

  1. COVID and political topics have caused many to think twice before being in crowded settings and meeting new people. I wish we were not in this place in our country and the world. I miss being around people but am very grateful to live in a nature sanctuary and care for my animals. Although social media is not the same as in person, it allows some connection (yes, I realize many show a false picture of their real life on social). How do we overcome the absence of connection with the current climate?

    Comment by Tamara Miller — April 25, 2022 @ 4:00 AM

  2. A very good publication. I developed social anxiety in my youth and still have it today, which can be reduced through hobbies, passions or as Amen Clinics writes.
    I cordially greet all Amen Clinics employees.

    Comment by Henryk — April 25, 2022 @ 5:15 AM

  3. Social anxiety I think I have

    Comment by Scott miller — April 25, 2022 @ 5:23 AM

  4. All my kids and I have anxiety and social anxiety. My ex was abusive to me. I left him but not as soon as it started.

    Comment by Harrison — April 25, 2022 @ 5:49 AM

  5. What type of medication or supplements work for this when lifestyle changes are NOT enough? Any seriously help?

    Comment by Sue — April 25, 2022 @ 5:58 AM

  6. My 30 year old grandson has been living with me since November 2019. He has severe social anxiety and when he has an overwhelming episode, he will vomit for several days (3 – 4) and stay in bed. He usually does not come out of his room when his aunts come for a short visit with me. He eats his meals in his room and rarely coming out except for food or drink. He works online , so that also keeps him in his room. I would love for him to have the brain spect scan; however I need to know the cost of the procedure before talking to him about scheduling an appointment. Thank you.

    Comment by LEREA FOSTER — April 25, 2022 @ 6:33 AM

  7. How do you get started?

    Comment by Lea Pelfrey — April 25, 2022 @ 10:15 AM

  8. This is me .

    Comment by Ken — April 25, 2022 @ 3:42 PM

  9. Hello Lea, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT Imaging and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/. Amen Clinics currently has 10 locations nationwide: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 25, 2022 @ 6:30 PM

  10. Hello Lerea, thank you for reaching out and sharing about your grandson. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 25, 2022 @ 6:32 PM

  11. Hello Sue, thank you for reaching out. For more information about Dr. Daniel Amen’s brain-directed supplements, visit https://brainmd.com/contact to inquire.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 25, 2022 @ 6:35 PM

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