Coping With Social Anxiety

24 Aug by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety, or social phobia, is a mental health disorder that causes fear around interacting with others. Much of this fear stems from distressing thoughts about being judged or evaluated negatively. Coping with social anxiety can prove difficult, due to the associated symptoms of this mental illness. HPA/LiveWell offers treatment services to help you cope with social anxiety.

What Are Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

Although many people may suffer from nerves or shyness from time to time in social situations, it does not mean they are coping with social anxiety. Social anxiety comes with significantly distressing symptoms that can impact daily functioning and an overall sense of well-being. Those with social anxiety tend to experience symptoms that manifest behaviorally, physically, and emotionally.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Poor eye contact when communicating with others
  • Shaky voice when speaking
  • Isolating (avoiding interaction altogether)

Physical symptoms:

  • Stomach upset and/or diarrhea
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Muscle tension and tightness
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in chest

Emotional/cognitive symptoms:

  • Excessive worry (typically about being judged by, or embarrassed around, other people)
  • Catastrophizing (fearing the worst in social situations)
  • Concern about offending others

These symptoms contribute to why individuals coping with social anxiety may find even the most mundane daily activities to be challenging, such as:

  • Making phone calls
  • Asking for directions
  • Using a public restroom
  • Dating
  • Walking into a room of strangers
  • Eating in front of others

Coping with Social Anxiety

Learning how to overcome social anxiety and shyness is often best supported through psychotherapy. Working with a therapist can help in understanding the process of overcoming social anxiety step-by-step. Yet there are some great self-help approaches and coping skills to assist in coping. Incorporating deep breathing exercises into your daily routine can prove extremely effective in reducing anxiety in general. With social anxiety, integrating deep breathing, prior to engaging in social situations, can help diminish symptoms.

Another useful approach to coping with social anxiety is to challenge the negative thoughts that arise. If you are experiencing fear before or during a social interaction, try to turn your attention to the associated thoughts. These thoughts, often the “worst case scenario” or catastrophizing thoughts are what drive the fear. Thus, asking questions like the following can be helpful.

  • Is there another possible outcome?
  • What is the evidence supporting this thought?
  • Is it possible I am misinterpreting this?

There are also some general lifestyle changes that can prove successful in the management of anxiety.

  • Avoid caffeine. Stimulants such as coffee, caffeinated tea, and soda, are proven to increase the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Improve quality of sleep. The better rested, the less vulnerable a person is to anxiety.
  • Get moving. Increasing physical activity is crucial in the management of anxiety.
  • Incorporate omega-3s into diet. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to improve mood, support brain growth, and therefore, better cope with anxiety.