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Last Updated on July 9, 2019

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) can be a significant hurdle to your happiness, health, and ability to achieve your potential in relationships and at work

Here’s a common scenario:

You’re the kind of person that likes others. You want friends, you want to hang out with your co-workers for hors d’oeuvres after work, and you definitely don’t want someone to hang out with on Friday nights. You just can’t make your reality fit with your wishes.

Here’s one scenario that often happens: after wish you could be bold at work, make friends, and ask for that raise, the minute you’re invited to golf with your boss, do a presentation for the team, or come to a friend’s anniversary party…you bail out. You don’t feel smart enough, worthy enough, prepared enough…it is never enough…so you say “no’ to the very thing you wish you could do.

So, on one hand, you’re happy because you got to avoid the anxiety-provoking personal encounter, but you’re simultaneously miserable because – yet one more time – you didn’t go after what you want most. This can hurt your self-esteem even further, which only makes you less apt to try again the next time.

The vicious cycle can go on for years on end. Clearly, this disorder has the potential to rob you of your health or prevent you from meeting your goals at work and having positive, healthy relationships.

But here’s the good news about Social Anxiety Disorder – you don’t have to let it rob your future!

Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

First, let’s figure out what we’re dealing with.

The Fancy Definition 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) is an “intense, persistent fear of being noticed and judged by others” to the degree that it can prevent you from reaching your potential at work and other areas of your life.  

It’s not “just” being shy. The anxiety must last over six months and cause “considerable impairment” in your life, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.).[1] In addition, the anxiety must be constant, intense, and disabling to qualify. 

You’re not the only one!

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According to Social Phobia org, social anxiety is the third- largest mental health issue in the world, and affects 7% of US citizens.[2] It often (not always) begins around middle school which is inherently a period of intense self-consciousness. 

The Theories

Research is still divided on the cause of Social Anxiety Disorder, but some theories indicate there is a genetic/inheritable component while others argue that it can be a learned behavior.

Others believe the problem is multi-determined and can be a combination of genetics, social learning, and other factors combined. 

10 Scenarios That are Potential Triggers 

The Social Anxiety Association lists several scenarios that can be triggers for your anxiety including these common ones:[3]

  • Being teased or criticized
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched or observed
  • Having to say something in a formal, public situation
  • Meeting people in authority (“important people/authority figures”)
  • Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)
  • Feeling embarrassed (e.g., blushing, shaking)
  • Meeting other peoples’ eyes
  • Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
  • Being introduced to other people

3 Major Symptom Categories

When we encounter our triggers, sufferers tend to become symptomatic. According to Psycom, there are 3 main categories of symptoms for this disorder:

  1. Physical symptoms: racing heart, dizziness, stomach trouble, blushing, sweating, trembling, and dry mouth
  2. Emotional Symptoms: panic attacks, poor body image, nervousness, high levels of anxiety and fears.
  3. Behavioral Symptoms: Avoiding places/situations where you think you will be the center of attention; not pursuing activities for fear of embarrassment; becoming isolated, quitting school or a job, substance abuse.

NIMH adds that poor eye contact, mind going blank, speaking softly, self-consciousness, and feeling awkward are also commonplace. Remember: these symptoms can be “normal” – we are looking only for a situation where it is prolonged and a true hinderance to functioning!

What To Do About It

The important factor is to do something about your Social Phobia as it can become more self-perpetuating over time. Here’s are a few ideas of how to get started.

1. Ask a Doctor

Don’t self diagnose, ask a doctor. Reach out!

If you are concerned that social anxiety is preventing you from reaching your full potential, then seek consultation from a mental health professional or medical provider. Don’t suffer in silence!

Fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety seek treatment after their symptoms begin and, in fact, 1/3 of sufferers report having symptoms for ten years or more before reaching out for help. 

This is a needless impediment to your wellbeing, because studies indicate that this condition is highly treatable. In fact, one study claims an 85% improvement and sometimes full recovery after treatment! [4]

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A family doctor, internal medicine physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist are among the types of providers experienced in diagnosing and treating Social Anxiety Disorder. Be sure to check reviews and recommendations in your community.

Insider Tip!

Experienced mental health providers always ensure that other factors aren’t the cause of your problem before assigning a psychiatric diagnosis. Many medical issues, medications, and even substance abuse can mimic psychiatric issues so it is essential to rule these out first. 

Special note: Make sure your provider considers all angles without making any assumptions because some people truly do have both genuine psychiatric symptoms and a coincidental medical problems which can mimic it. 

Diagnostics can get complex, so this is why only a credentialed provider should diagnose your concerns! 

What Should You Expect?

Most providers will conduct an intake evaluation where they will take a thorough history, check your symptoms against the DSM-5 criteria, provide you with an anxiety checklist or other type of self-report test instrument, and review your medical records to name a few possibilities.

Be prepared to speak honestly about your history as the more data, the more accurate your diagnosis and recommendations will be. There are also resources, by Mayo Clinic and others, which provide some of the questions you might be asked. Preparation can certainly help with your anxiety about the interview. [5] 

2. Treatment Options

Here are some ways to try to regain your health!

Psychiatric Treatments

The most common types of treatment for social anxiety are psychotherapy, medication, or some combination thereof. 

If you elect to take medication, your doctor can help you decide which one is right for you. Be sure to ask about how long it will take to notice improvement, any potential side effects, and how to weigh the risks versus benefits of the medication.

As for psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common option and NIMH found particularly good outcomes using cognitive therapy combined with a behavioral therapy group.[6]

While the prospect of a group treatment might seem terrifying, it is deemed important so you can work on your symptoms in real-life scenarios with other group members.

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What is the goal of psychiatric treatment? 

A good goal to aspire to in the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder is to decrease symptoms, learn to reframe negative thoughts about yourself, developing confidence in social situations, which in the end should help you develop the type of friendships, relationships, jobs, and other opportunities that you previously could not negotiate on your own.

Alternatives

Some organizations are proponents of alternative medicine as an adjunctive treatment. Treatments such as massage, meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and acupuncture are common place. 

NAMI also suggests various self-management strategies (identifying one specific time to worry during the day, becoming an expert on your triggers, etc.); stress and relaxation techniques (e.g., breathing exercising, focused attention), and yoga (physical postures, breathing, and meditation). Exercise, like in many other areas, is also recommended but check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan.[7]

3. Community Support

Many churches, clubs, and local organizations provide support and healing opportunities for Social Anxiety Disorder. 

The National Alliance of Mental Health provides educational and support resources to those with mental illness including social anxiety at 1-800-950-NAMI or info@nami.org

4. Help Yourself!

NAMI and other organizations provide many ideas for self-help as a first step or as an adjunct to formal treatment. Here are some  ideas for being proactive in your care:

  1. Become educated about medication and treatment options. 
  2. Know your personal triggers and stressors and plan ahead. 
  3. Actively participate in your treatment. 
  4. Don’t QUIT if it isn’t helping. Keep at it until something does.
  5. Live a healthy lifestyle – engage in exercise and de-stressors and watch your diet.
  6. Avoid drugs and alcohol as they affect emotional balance, sleep, and can interactive with medication. *This includes too much caffeine!
  7. Join online discussion groups.

Practice Makes Improvement (If Not Perfect)

Mayo recommends that sufferers participate in social situations by being with those you feel comfortable around.  Then, slowly increase the “risk” by branching out a bit more. Rather than throw yourself into a wild frat party, you might first want to take a small interesting class where the teacher does most of the talking.

You might find that these are “safe” settings to meet people since it is highly structured and there is inherently a reason to speak with your peers. It also levels the playing ground as all of you are “new” in this social setting. [8]

Mayo further suggests that you actually practice socializing, just as you might practice piano. Here are some examples they suggested:

  • Eat with a close relative, friend or acquaintance in a public setting.
  • Purposefully make eye contact and return greetings from others, or be the first to say “hello”.
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Ask a retail clerk to help you find an item.
  • Get directions from a stranger.
  • Show an interest in others — ask about their homes, children, grandchildren, hobbies or travels, for instance.
  • Call a friend to make plans.

While these might seem like basic tasks to our more extroverted friends, this can be seemingly unsurmountable to our friends with Social Anxiety Disorder!

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Be Kind (To Yourself)

Learning these new social skills is taxing. Remember to be kind to yourself along the way. Mayo suggests that you spend some time with people you already know and feel comfortable with such as long-term friends and family. 

Another idea is to engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies when you’re anxious. 

Remind yourself that anxiety doesn’t last forever and that you have survived it before and will survive it again. 

Never, Ever Give Up

As you begin your treatment strategies, don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever give up. 

Social Anxiety Disorder, as we stated earlier, is a treatable disorder, so every single small step gets you further to your end goal.

Remember: As you practice, you will invariably fail and have set-backs. It is normal so just expect it! Progress isn’t linear– it occurs with step-by-step small gains over time. 

The Future You

Remember that the best time to start is now. Be a strong, stubborn, tenacious self-advocate. Get help if needed to take the step toward wholeness and healing now!

No matter whether your goal is having close friends, being more effective at work, or even finding a new relationship partner, being able to successfully connect with others can indeed transform a lonely, frustrating life into a more fulfilling one.

Take the step.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jodie C.

An experienced psychologist who has worked with people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life. To control your thoughts means to influence the way you live your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affects your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive, and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Be someone who can control your thoughts—become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have a few thoughts that are not of my choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in control of your thoughts.

If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create unhealthy and unproductive thoughts.

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words—many times your parents
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples’ expectations
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is youwhy else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future—in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear, which is often irrational and has no basis. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Troublemaker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration, and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

This person can be set off by words or feelings and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control. He is run by past programming that no longer serves you—if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You can control your thoughts, but you must pay attention to them so you can identify “who” is running the show—this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind.

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go-to” thoughts in applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

1. For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself to discredit the ‘voice’ that created the thought—if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready.

This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

2. For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind, and creates anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above-stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time, you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense. Both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

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Now, take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like! Do it until you feel that you’re close to being in control of your thoughts.

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example: If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place.

Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

3. For the Troublemaker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain.

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds—just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize. Now, you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior, and you’ll be more in control of your thoughts.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

4. For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher, and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with a replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and thoughts, and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method, I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (closed, of course). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon
  • Shut down your thinking
  • Calm your feelings
  • Simply focus on the present moment

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable, and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. You can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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