If you experience chronic anxiety, you should know that you are not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America.” You can develop an anxiety disorder because of a genetic predisposition or because of traumatic experiences you’ve had in the past – things like physical abuse, a death in the family, emotional bullying, public shaming, and more.
While there are a variety of anxiety disorders that a person can be diagnosed with, e.g., Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder, this blogpost will focus on symptoms and treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder, which usually begins in early adolescence and can last for many years.
SYMPTOMS OF SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
Social Anxiety Disorder has a common set of symptoms. Often times, you might experience a combination of physical (dizziness, shocks in your stomach, perspiration, shortness of breath, visual distortions, such as the room spinning, etc), psychological (racing thoughts, worrying about the future, thinking you are trapped, etc), and emotional (feeling scared, embarrassed, panicky, or out-of-control) indicators.
Social situations like school, work, family responsibilities, interactions with friends, etc, can become incredibly difficult. A diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder usually follows when these symptoms interrupt a person’s ability to function normally in day-to-day life.
Common thoughts people with social anxiety have:
- I look weird.
- I am weird.
- I can’t handle my life.
- Everyone’s judging me.
- I’ll never get better at managing my anxiety.
- No one understands what’s happening to me.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY FOR SOCIAL ANXIETY
As I mentioned in the previous post on Depressed Thinking, cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment approach that uses the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to change the way you understand and react to the world around you.
For a person experiencing social anxiety, this means working with a therapist to:
Identify your triggers. Knowing what events will generate an anxious response from you is the first step in managing social anxiety. Once you’re aware of the people, places, and situations that cause your anxiety, you can better prepare yourself to manage your responses.
Be mindful of your thoughts. Notice how you think about situations that trigger your anxiety. Here’s a list of common methods of thinking that worsen anxiety.
Learn how to cope with your emotions. Fear is a common response to your triggers. Especially if you experience panic attacks, learning how to cope with fear that is unreasonable and excessive can be vital to helping you manage your social anxiety.
Change your behaviors. As your fear and anxiety levels increase, you might be tempted to put yourself into hyper-motion, which is counterproductive. Instead, focus on slowing things down. Practice deep-breathing exercises to lower your heart rate. Alternatively, put a few ice cubes into a glass of water, drink the water, and relax your stomach as the water hits your belly. Both of these exercises help soothe your body while shifting your focus away from your thoughts.