What’s It Like to Live with Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is becoming increasingly prominent, with more people understanding that it’s a real and complex condition. Simply knowing that social anxiety exists doesn’t necessarily help those who may be suffering and not realize it, however. Many people live with social anxiety and aren’t fully aware of it, in part because they don’t realize that what they’re feeling are symptoms of the condition.

Mental and Emotional Symptoms

Many people think that social anxiety is simply being nervous or uncomfortable in crowds. In truth, however, the symptoms are much more complex than this. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are a few of the most common emotional symptoms of social anxiety:

  • Fear of being judged by others
  • Extreme fear of embarrassing yourself
  • Fear of interacting with strangers
  • Worry that others will notice that you appear anxious
  • Anxiety or panic in anticipation of future events
  • Expecting the worst out of any negative experience in social situations
  • Overanalyzing your interactions after returning from a social situation

Note that these symptoms are all related to the emotional effects of social anxiety disorder. There are physical symptoms to the condition as well.

Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety

There are several ways that social anxiety can affect you physically, though specific physical symptoms can vary from person to person. Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some of the more common physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder:

  • Frequent blushing
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Trembling or muscle tightness
  • Hyperventilating
  • Difficulty thinking and memory problems

Unfortunately, the mental and emotional effects of social anxiety disorder aren’t the only symptoms of the condition. Because of the social focus of the anxiety you feel with the disorder, it can have a significant impact on your social interactions and readiness for social situations as well.

Social Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

As with the other lists of symptoms, this is by no means all-inclusive. While everyone’s experience is unique, here are some of the most common ways that social anxiety can affect your social interactions:

  • Difficulty interacting with strangers or authority figures
  • Difficulty making or maintaining eye contact while talking
  • Increased absenteeism from work or school
  • Reluctance or inability to enter rooms where an activity has already started or where others are already seated
  • Reluctance or inability to eat when others aren’t eating or have already finished
  • Difficulty starting conversations or approaching others, even in situations where it would be socially appropriate (such as returning items at a store or asking questions in a classroom setting)
  • Inability to ask someone on a date or make other overt romantic gestures

In cases of severe social anxiety, it can even become difficult to leave the house or go anywhere that others will be present. The longer these feelings go on, the harder it can be to reestablish normal social interactions for fear that someone will have noticed your absence.

So What Does Social Anxiety Feel Like?

The experience of social anxiety will be different for everyone who experiences it, but for many people, it doesn’t always feel like what you would expect from anxiety. Instead, it comes across more like a feeling of dread or a fear of embarrassment. The intensity can vary depending on the situation and your overall health and mental wellbeing, with the symptoms getting better or worse over time. The condition can also be comorbid with depression or other mental health issues, worsening the symptoms of both and at times making those symptoms feel overwhelming.

If you worry that you’re experiencing some of all of these feelings, it might be time to talk to a doctor you trust or a mental health professional. That can be a very scary talk to have if you suffer from social anxiety, but in the end, it can make a huge difference in your life.

If you suffer from social anxiety, what resources do you have to help you cope with your condition?

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What is Social Anxiety?

Do you get a little nervous when you’re around a big group of people? That’s a natural worry for a lot of people. If your reaction extends past mildly uncomfortable and you find yourself experiencing panic attacks, self-medicating, avoiding social situations at all costs or acting in other ways that are detrimental to your health and life, then you may be experiencing social anxiety.

Exactly What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, as defined by the diagnostic criteria set forth in the DSM-V, is a persistent, ongoing and chronic fear of at least one social situation where you’re around unfamiliar people.  You feel embarrassed, anxious or fearful. Your reaction to the situation doesn’t change – you’re always anxious and it’s severe, up to the point of (but not necessarily always including) panic attacks.

With social anxiety disorder, you know your fear is unreasonable or out of proportion to the social situations, but you can’t manage to shake it or cope with it no matter how hard you try. You’ll go out of your way to avoid the situation or you’ll be in distress while going through it. At the same time, avoiding it, anticipating it or experiencing it is detrimental to your ability to function – you could lose your job, miss out on schoolwork, lose friends, upset family and/or disappoint yourself.

Social anxiety disorder can last six or more months and it isn’t due to an underlying medical condition, a side effect of another medication and isn’t the result of substance abuse.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

There’s no cure for social anxiety disorder, but it is treatable. Symptoms are managed by learning coping mechanisms to lessen anxiety and fear. Cognitive behavioral therapy (“talk therapy”), dialectical behavioral therapy or exposure therapy are all used to help combat the symptoms of social anxiety or get to the root cause of it. In certain cases, medication can help you work through your fears, and when combined with therapy, can help you make progress in combating social anxiety disorder.

How Do I Get Help?

It’s extremely rare that a person is able to successfully manage social anxiety alone. If you’re looking for help, contact your local mental health care provider about your options. If you don’t currently have a mental health services provider or don’t know where to start, ask your general practitioner for a referral or advice in finding help – they should be able to point you in the right direction. It may take some work and multiple tries to find a therapist or other service provider that works well with you, so don’t get discouraged if the first provider you try doesn’t feel like a good fit.

In addition to seeking the help of a licensed therapist, counselor, psychiatrist and/or psychologist, it can help to make use of other resources available to you. Books, podcasts and social forums like SocialAnxietySupport.com can all be valuable tools in learning to live with and work through social anxiety disorder. While resources are not a substitute for qualified professional help, they can give you some insight into what coping mechanisms may work for you, ways to deal with your anxiety on a daily basis and a gentle, non-triggering way to connect with others so you feel less alone – all of which are important when you’re living with social anxiety.

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When is it Time to Seek Help for Social Anxiety?

When is it Time to Seek Help for Social Anxiety?

When is it time to seek help for social anxiety? Conventional wisdom would say that if you’re asking, it’s time. Because everyone’s situation is different — from the specifics of your anxiety to the providers available in your area to whether or not you can afford to see someone based on your insurance – there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to seek help for social anxiety, there are a few things to consider.

What Do You Hope to Accomplish?

If you’re considering seeking help for your social anxiety, ask yourself what goal you have for doing so. There’s no magic cure for social anxiety, but you can learn new coping mechanisms or give yourself a refresher on the skills needed to forge through life in spite of your anxiety. If you find your coping mechanisms alone aren’t enough, you may be considering medication to be better able to use them.

Have a goal in mind for what you’d like to accomplish when seeking the help of a professional to deal with your social anxiety – you’ll be that much more prepared and more likely to get results.

What Are Your Limitations?

It’s unfortunate, but life can interfere with seeking help in a number of ways. Even though you really want or need the help, your schedule and finances may not allow you to commit to a weekly therapy session. Be upfront with the professionals you meet, regarding what you can and cannot do.

For example, if you need a professional who will meet with you after work, you’ll need to seek one out who offers extended hours. If your schedule is jam-packed because of work, family obligations, and school, you and your professional may need to work together to figure out a time that works for both of you – or meet less frequently than would be ideal.

Financially speaking, it helps to explore the options that are covered by your insurance if you have it. If not, most health departments can point you in the direction of clinics or providers who offer a sliding scale fee, payment plans or who accept credit lines like Care Credit.

Will You Stick with It?

Getting set up with a professional for your social anxiety takes a lot of work. The process can sound daunting – and sometimes finding the right fit can be overwhelming. If you think you might need help tackling your social anxiety, be sure you’re ready to commit and really stick with the process. It’s one thing to go through the initial process of seeking help and have to switch providers because they aren’t a right fit for your personality and needs, but it’s another entirely to “drop out” because you just can’t stick with it.

If you feel like your anxiety might prevent you from staying compliant with the course of treatment you and your provider agree on, mention it! They’re there to make sure you succeed and work through your anxiety – even if it means finding a way to get you into the office for your appointments.

Is it Time to Get Help?

Admitting you need help for your anxiety can make you feel depressed. One of the toughest things you can do is say “I can’t handle this by myself.” But you shouldn’t feel that way about getting help for your social anxiety. Remind yourself that you’re strong enough and smart enough to admit that you need a professional to tackle the job.

You wouldn’t try to take out your own appendix if it ruptured, would you? Just like physical health issues, it pays to be wise enough to let a professional help you sort through your emotional hurdles. Knowing what you want to accomplish – or at least having a vague idea – and communicating openly and honestly with service providers will set you up with the best possible outcome.

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Can You Overcome Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety can have a major impact on your life. Depending on the severity of your anxiety, it may prevent you from socializing with friends or pursuing new opportunities. Can you overcome social anxiety and stop these negative effects? In most cases you can, though it may take multiple attempts to find the approach that works for you.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to tackle social anxiety. If one attempt doesn’t provide results, some other method of overcoming social anxiety may work better. As difficult as social anxiety is, with perseverance, you can still come out on top.

Therapy Options

One of the primary methods used to overcome social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This therapy looks at not only the actions you take but also the thoughts associated with those actions. It’s effective against social anxiety because it helps you isolate your fears and avoidances, letting you approach them from a more logical angle and find ways to deal with each issue individually. The therapy may help you challenge your negative reactions to social situations and over time, should help you to overcome the hurdles in your life caused by social anxiety.

A Self-Help Approach

Therapy and routines can go a long way toward overcoming social anxiety. In some cases, medication is also an option. Don’t overlook the benefits of self-help books, apps, and videos, however. While these should be seen as more of a supplement to other methods than a primary form of dealing with social anxiety, even a little help is better than nothing. You may learn valuable techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety from self-help resources and they have the benefit of giving you a source you can go back to again and again when it’s most convenient for you.

Exposure Hierarchies

You may hear this referred to as an “exposure ladder” or a “fear hierarchy.” Regardless of the name, however, this tool may help you overcome some of the worst stresses brought on by social anxiety. Look at your day and pick out the 5 to 10 biggest potential triggers that you’ll face. Write each down, then rate each with a score between 0 (indicating that it is unlikely to cause any anxiety) to 100 (indicating that it is almost certain to cause severe anxiety.) Reorder the list from lowest score to greatest, giving you an order in which you can gradually build up to the bigger causes of stress and anxiety while still getting things done. As you check some items off of your list you’ll likely find more confidence to tackle the bigger triggers, as well.

Break Down Your Day

Another way to overcome the social anxiety you face each day is to break down your day into a series of achievable milestones. Each morning, create a list of your goals for the day. From there you can break each goal down into a series of smaller accomplishments, making the goals less daunting and reducing your anxiety about each in the process.

Practice Makes Perfect

If your social anxiety seems overwhelming in certain situations, try practicing or acting out those situations to make them seem more commonplace. The more you practice a potentially anxiety-triggering event, the more used to the event you will feel and the less likely it will be to trigger a severe anxiety reaction. You can also practice ways to cope with the anxiety such as deep breathing or other calming exercises; this will help you associate the calming exercise with the event, making it more effective if your anxiety does get triggered.

There are a lot of things that can trigger social anxiety, and it may take a combination of techniques to face them all. Even if you still feel some anxiety, it’s important that you focus on your victories rather than the moments where anxiety seems to take over. Even when it seems like an uphill battle, it’s still one that you can win with time.

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Why Drinking to Control Social Anxiety Can Backfire

At first glance, you might think that having a drink or two might be a good way to deal with your social anxiety. After all, using alcohol is considered by many people to be a good way to unwind after a stressful day. Before you reach for that bottle of wine, snap the cap on that beer or start lining up shots, you need to consider something else: Bending the elbow to control your anxiety can backfire on you and make you feel more anxious the next day.

“Hangxiety”: When a Hangover and Anxiety Meet

If you have ever woken up the morning after drinking feeling stressed or guilty about things you said or did the night before, then you experienced what is commonly called “hangxiety.” As if it’s not bad enough feeling dehydrated, headachy and generally like you’ve been hit by a freight train (the hangover), you get to deal with anxiety as well. How exactly does this double whammy occur? [Hint: It’s not just the result of being dehydrated because of alcohol use.]

How Alcohol Use Leads to Anxiety

Step 1: Alcohol Calms the Brain

When you first start drinking, alcohol interacts with the Gaba receptor. This receptor sends chemical messengers through the brain as well as the central nervous system to slow down nerve cells’ activity. As a result, you start to feel relaxed and in good spirits (no pun intended). This stage lasts for the first couple of drinks.

Step 2: More Inebriated, Even Less Anxiety

Once you get into your third or fourth drink, the alcohol is actively blocking glutamate. This is the brain’s principal excitability transmitter.

As people continue to drink alcohol, they tend to become less anxious. Someone who is very drunk is even less anxious than a person who has only had one or two drinks. The endless trains of thought that go along with being anxious are pretty much shut down. This may sound like it’s a desirable state of mind, but it isn’t exactly as advertised.

Step 3: Body Tries to Correct Imbalance in Brain Chemistry

You know that your body works like a very-complicated machine, right? When something is even the least bit out of balance, it tries to correct it and put things right.

When you get drunk, your body knows that its Gaba levels are out of whack. It goes into overdrive to bring them down to normal levels. At the same time, it’s trying to get the glutamate back up.

Step 4: Hangxiety Can Occur

At the point where you stop drinking, your Gaba function is really low and your body has caused your glutamate levels to increase rapidly. This creates the perfect situation for you to feel very anxious. It’s also the reason why some people experience seizures while going through alcohol withdrawal.

The anxiety starts while you’re sleeping off the alcohol you consumed. You wake up feeling jittery and your “fight or flight” hormone (noradrenaline) levels are higher than usual. Alcohol consumption causes them to increase slightly, then they rise as the alcohol wears off. The surge of noradrenaline in the brain can cause severe anxiety.

Who is Affected Most by Hangxiety?

Not everyone feels the effects of hangxiety to the same extent. The results of a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that hangxiety effects people differently. Researchers asked a group of participants about their anxiety levels before, during and then the morning after they consumed alcohol. They found that people who were more shy had much higher anxiety levels the day after drinking than the participants who weren’t as shy. The researchers also found a link between those who experienced significant hangxiety and those who had a problem with alcohol abuse.

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