Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common forms of anxiety. The Anxiety Canada website suggests that between 7-13% of people are affected. It tends to emerge during interactions with others or during performance situations. Some common examples of anxiety-producing situations include public speaking or giving presentations, participating in a class or group discussion, eating in front of others, meeting new people, communicating with others, or attending social events.
What causes social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety can develop slowly over time or suddenly after a challenging, stressful or traumatic experience. A family history of anxiety can also be a factor as well as comorbidity with other mental health disorders or substance use.
“Symptoms of social anxiety disorder usually begin prior to age 18, and symptoms tend to appear more in women than in men.” (CAMH website, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/social-anxiety-disorder)
What does social anxiety look and feel like?
The signs and symptoms of social anxiety vary from person to person and through different ages and stages. Here are some of the symptoms that someone who has social anxiety might experience (Adapted from https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/social-anxiety/ and https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/social-anxiety-disorder) :
People with anxiety can have cognitive distortions or tricky thoughts. It’s like wearing a pair of glasses that impact thoughts and perceptions in a negative way, causing us to say things to ourselves that may not be kind, true, or helpful. Here are some examples of those troublesome types of thoughts:
People can be shy, quiet, and introverted and not be anxious. Feeling nervous is normal and anxiety can even be protective and motivating in many circumstances. So when is social anxiety a problem?
“Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) involves a fear or anxiety about
being humiliated or scrutinized in social situations, which lasts at least six months.
This fear causes significant distress or impairment in day-to-day functioning (e.g.,
social or occupational).” (CAMH Website, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/social-anxiety-disorder" rel="">https://www.camh.ca/en/health-
info/mental- illness-and-addiction- index/social-anxiety-disorder)
A doctor or psychiatrist can evaluate symptoms and make a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, however a formal diagnosis is not required to benefit from treatment. When the anxiety is persistent and impacts your ability to do the things you need to do and want to do, it may be time to consider therapy.
How is social anxiety treated?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an effective form of treatment for social anxiety disorder along with controlled exposure to the situation that creates anxiety. CBT can assist people in recognizing the relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions, and in finding ways to replace those problematic thoughts with more realistic, positive self-talk. Medication can also be helpful, in combination with therapy or counselling. Healthy wellness habits such as exercise, eating well, limiting substance and alcohol use, and improving sleep routines can also help. There are also a number of self-help strategies that people can implement to increase their coping skills for anxiety. Anxiety Canada has some great information and ideas HERE. There are also lots of apps available that offer guided meditation, relaxation exercises, mindfulness practices, and other calming tools. With an increased social awareness and understanding of mental health issues, there are more tools and resources available than ever before to help people with anxiety find ways to take back control of their lives, achieve mental wellness, and reduce barriers to fulfilling their goals.
If you’d like to learn more about how CBT can help you with social anxiety, contact us through this LINK for a consultation.
Written by Lisa Brandon