Would you describe yourself as someone who has trouble communicating and feeling comfortable in social situations? Do you find yourself avoiding social situations just to avoid not feeling discomfort and awkwardness? If so, it is possible you may struggle with social anxiety. Now, let us be more clear: there is a difference between feeling a little bit nervous in a new social environment and a true (i.e., diagnostic) social anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety Disorder, which is sometimes referred to as social phobia, is defined as when a person feels anxious or nervous in one or more social situations. While many people have experienced feeling anxious in social situations, the discerning factor is that those with social anxiety disorder feel strong anxiety that is enduring and often gets in the way of them doing things they want to do, especially when they avoid social situations that cause them to feel uncomfortable.
Social anxiety disorder is not a rare occurrence whatsoever; in fact, many people struggle with this disorder. The trouble is that sometimes people essentially learn to live with this anxiety and do not realize this is a very treatable struggle they do not have to simply “live with.” The additional difficulty is that the anxiety disorder itself sometimes impacts a person’s willingness to seek help due to the very nature of the social anxiety and fear of being judged, ridiculed, or embarrassed. The truth is, though, that a trained and licensed mental health professional who is very familiar with social anxiety is not passing judgment at you or critiquing you for the level of anxiety you may experience at that first appointment; rather, an anxiety specialist is there to support you and work with you.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety is often confused with shyness, but it is more than that.
The distress of having social anxiety is much more intense for the individual than a person who just experiences shyness. For many with social anxiety disorder, the distress can be unbearable to the extent the person avoids social situations as much as possible. The person may also avoid common social exchanges, such as eye contact or small talk. Social anxiety is typically rooted in irrational thoughts and beliefs about the impression others have of you, how you will be perceived by others, whether or not you will be liked, and if others will criticize or judge you. It is also based on an irrational fear of being embarrassed (and possibly showing it in a physical manner through sweating, shaking, or blushing), offending another person, and a fear of being the center of attention.
According to the DSM-5 (2013), social anxiety disorder is characterized by the following symptoms:
- A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.
- The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.
- Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack.
- The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.
- The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress.
- The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
- In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
- The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
How Social Anxiety can Create Struggles in Your Life
Social anxiety is incredibly uncomfortable for those who struggle with it. Social anxiety can lead to or exacerbate problems with low self-esteem, negative thinking, depression, and anxiety. A person with social anxiety disorder is likely to experience intense discomfort in the following types of situations:
- Meeting, interacting or talking with someone new
- Public speaking or presentations
- Starting conversations
- Making eye contact with others
- Walking into rooms when others are inside
- Attending parties or social gatherings
- Using public restrooms
- Eating in front of other people
- Going to school or work
- Attending job interviews
- In children, crying, cringing, or displaying fear or discomfort in peer settings
How Tampa Therapy Can Help
Fortunately, there are excellent therapies available that can greatly reduce symptoms and distress, and increase one’s social-functioning quality of life. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most researched and effective method of treating social anxiety disorder. CBT is a skill-based approach where the person learns how to identify, challenge, and modify their thoughts and beliefs surrounding social situations. Changing your thoughts allows you to modify your behaviors and how you react to situations, which reduces the amount of anxiety and fear related to social interactions. CBT also helps you to learn and practice social skills that reinforce a comfortable social life.
Taking the first step is often the hardest, but with consistent appointments, action, and assistance from a licensed mental health professional, change can be made rather quickly (this is, of course, dependent on the client and their level of engagement in the therapy process). At Tampa Therapy, we are here to help. The team at Tampa Therapy specializes in working with anxiety disorders and providing CBT. We are committed to providing a relaxing, healing, and non-judgmental environment to support you on your journey. If you want things to be different, you have to change them. Give us a call today to start making important changes in your life.