The pounding heart when asked to make a work presentation, feeling sick when you need to eat in front of others, blushing when everyone is focussing on you, being terrified of saying something stupid or even having a panic attack at the thought of being in a crowd.
These thoughts and feelings are surprisingly common when faced with social situations, but for people who suffer with social anxiety disorder, they can become totally debilitating and lead to avoidance of any and all social situations.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is best described as an extreme fear of doing something that may be embarrassing or humiliating and being judged or negatively evaluated by other people. This fear can be restricted to specific situations, or generalised to most situations. Where the fear is specific, the result tends to be avoidance of that particular situation, but when the fear is general, it can sometimes result in almost complete social isolation.
Some common social phobias include:
- Eating or drinking in public
- Being in crowds
- Speaking in public
- Writing in the presence of others
- Participating in meetings or group settings
- Using public toilets
How can I tell if I have Social Anxiety?
Most people who struggle with social anxiety disorder are totally aware that their feelings of anxiety are out of proportion to the event itself, but still, suffer distress when exposed to the feared situation.
Some common symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
How common is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders, and affects approximately 8% of the population across their lifetime. Equally common among women and men, social anxiety typically starts in late childhood or early adolescence and is ongoing without treatment, although the levels of severity and impairment can fluctuate over time.
A sad twist with social anxiety disorder is that symptoms of the disorder itself, such as embarrassment, often stop people seeking help, with the average delay between onset and treatment estimated to be 14 years. The good news, however, is that social anxiety tends to respond very well to treatment, and quite often in a relatively short amount of time.
What are the Treatment Options?
If you suffer anxiety or panic symptoms, it is important that you see a Doctor to rule out a medical condition. Some drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, so it’s best that you let them know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies or recreational drugs that you might be taking. If a medical cause is ruled out, the next step is to see a psychologist who has experience treating anxiety and panic disorders.
The specific treatment approach will depend on the severity of the social anxiety, whether it is general or specific, and whether it is occurring in tandem with any other depressive or anxiety disorders. It is very common for social anxiety to be partnered with other anxiety disorders, depression and even substance abuse, so it is important to have an understanding of exactly what is going on. In general though, social anxiety is usually treated with relaxation therapy, cognitive-behavioural techniques, exposure therapy, social skills training, assertiveness training and occasionally, medication.
As with any anxiety disorder, social anxiety have been found to respond very well to treatment, but the best results are found when people are motivated and willing to make a change to their lifestyle.
- Some changes that have been found to reduce the intensity of social anxiety include:
- Utilising deep relaxation techniques, such as meditation or muscle relaxation
- Regular Exercise
- Cutting back on stimulants, such as coffee and alcohol
- Learning to acknowledge and express your feelings, rather than ignoring them
- Using positive self-talk to create a calmer and more accepting attitude
How can we help with Social Anxiety?
At the core of social anxiety is the fear of being negatively judged by other people. The key to treatment, then, is to learn to control the anxiety and accept that, even if mistakes are made because of the anxiety, you will not be judged adversely by friends or colleagues.
When you come in, your Psychologist will try to gain an understanding from you about how you are feeling and thinking, and what is happening in your life. You will most likely be asked to do some simple tests, and these will help to assess the severity of your social anxiety and whether you are suffering any other symptoms of anxiety or depression.
You will also be asked questions to uncover what might be the causes and stressors in your life, and your Psychologist will work with you to devise a treatment plan that will suit you and your lifestyle.
After your initial session, you will have some insight into what the problem is, a plan for therapy for the future, and some initial strategies to help get you started.
If you would like to book an appointment with one of our experienced, caring Anxiety psychologists, please contact us. We have clinics nationally across Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide, plus many more; so it's likely we'll have one handy to you.