Some people are shy or introverted and may feel uncomfortable around large groups of people. Sometimes, though, it isn’t shyness that leads people to feel uncomfortable 一 it’s a mental health condition called social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety isn’t “just shyness”; it’s a diagnosable disorder that can severely impair someone’s life.
If you’re facing severe social anxiety, there are steps you can take to manage it. Social anxiety disorder is a treatable condition, and there are practices that may help ease your symptoms so you can have a fulfilling social life.
How Do You Know if You Have Social Anxiety?
You might be wondering: am I just shy, or do I have a diagnosable social anxiety disorder? The only way to be 100% sure about whether you’re suffering from severe social anxiety is to receive a diagnosis from a mental health provider. However, you can start learning about what social anxiety looks like so you know whether or not these symptoms resonate with your experience.
- Intense fear or anxiety about social situations; this could be just about one or more specific social situations (for example, being in large groups or being the center of attention).
- The anxiety you feel about these social situations is disproportionate to the actual risk involved. For example, you may be fearful about being the center of attention when it’s highly unlikely that anybody will be observing you.
- Avoiding the social situations that make you feel anxious.
- You have felt this way for over 6 months.
- The anxiety and fear about social situations are significantly impairing your ability to function in life. For example, maybe you haven’t made any close relationships because of this anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder is unique in that the people who suffer from it only experience these symptoms of anxiety when it comes to certain social situations. They may not experience any symptoms of anxiety on their own when they’re alone (unlike people with generalized anxiety disorder).
Tips to Overcome Social Anxiety
If your social anxiety is so severe that it’s impacting your life, you may need to see a mental health professional to ask about an anxiety diagnosis and treatment. Both anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy have been found to be very helpful in decreasing the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
In the meantime, there are some practices that you can incorporate into your daily life to start dealing with severe social anxiety. Try some of these techniques and learn which practices work best for you.
Perhaps someone has told you to “take a deep breath” when you’ve felt anxious before. It may sound like a cliche, but this is actually excellent advice. When you have social anxiety disorder, every social situation may make you feel like you’re in danger 一 and that’s simply not true. Breathing techniques, including deep diaphragmatic breathing, physically calm down your body’s stress response and activate its parasympathetic nervous system. This allows both your brain and your body to feel more relaxed.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Slowly, inhale through your nose until you fill the bottom of your belly up with air. When we’re anxious, we usually take shallow breaths 一 we breathe only into the top of our lungs. When you practice deep breathing, the hand on your belly should rise, but not the hand on your chest. After you’ve inhaled deeply, exhale through your nose or your mouth. The hand on your belly should lower. Try this technique every time you’re feeling anxious; practice until you are no longer feeling the symptoms of social anxiety.
Get out of your comfort zone
It can be tempting when you’re living with severe social anxiety to avoid every situation that makes you feel anxious. Although this might feel relieving at the moment, it can actually make your anxiety worse. Avoiding social situations is actually one of the symptoms of social anxiety, so every time you avoid a situation that makes you feel nervous, you are allowing social anxiety disorder to maintain power over you.
It’s difficult, but try getting out of your comfort zone little by little when it comes to social situations. If you think of your anxiety as a scale from 0 (meaning a situation doesn’t cause you any anxiety at all) to a 10 (the situation is the scariest thing you can imagine doing), start with situations that cause about a level 1 or 2 of anxiety. If you start with the scariest thing, then you may become so frightened that you never feel brave enough to try again. Choose a goal to work towards every week.
Celebrate small victories
When you are able to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, even in tiny ways, recognize your accomplishment! Any step forward, no matter how small, is progress. Don’t fall into all-or-nothing thinking. For example, maybe you didn’t go to the party, but you did get dressed to go before changing your mind. If you couldn’t even think about attending before, then that is a victory that should be celebrated.
Thinking about recovery in all-or-nothing terms is likely to only lead to disappointment and frustration. Recovery is rarely a linear process. You deserve to celebrate any step forward, even if a step backward comes next.
Consider working with a therapist
If none of these practices have been helpful for you (or even if they have been), it may be helpful to visit a mental health center. Therapy can provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore your experiences with severe social anxiety and receive an anxiety diagnosis. Often, when people face social anxiety, they feel afraid of making a fool of themselves 一 and this fear may cross over into therapy sessions. A well-trained therapist will never judge you. They will help you challenge the thoughts that lead to social anxiety and set treatment goals with you so you can tackle your social anxiety one step at a time.
At Genesis Behavioral Health, we will walk with you on your mental health journey every step of the way. We offer comprehensive mental health care to help you thrive, not just survive. You shouldn’t have to overcome social anxiety on your own. Give our office a call today to see what services we can provide for you.
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