By: Justin Hill
Like people throwing around the phrase “I’m OCD” or “I get depressed a lot,” the phrase “I’m just shy” is not what social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is. In fact, it’s far beyond just “being shy” – that’s why it has disorder in the name.
Today’s society wants to sugarcoat things, they want to dull them down, keep things politically correct. Well, social anxiety disorder shouldn’t be put in this category. It’s a disorder and it's something that should be taken (and dealt with) seriously.
Knowing that, I want to provide you with 6 ways to combat the insidious suffering you may be experiencing because of social anxiety disorder.
My goal is not to mollify things or step around the issue, pat you on the back, and give you some “positive thinking” ideology. I’m here to provide some real-world techniques to help you deal with social anxiety disorder.
I’ll start the article with defining what social anxiety disorder is. Next, I will provide links to a social anxiety scale to assess your own level of social anxiety (or social phobia). And along the way, I will provide use links as resources for further reading, insight, and help.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
What is Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is a psychiatric anxiety disorder, not just shyness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), social phobia is:
“A disabling anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social or performance situations.”
Want more info on that, read this NIH article.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines social anxiety disorder as:
"extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it.”
Want some specifics? WebMD does a great job of laying some out.
I found Helpguide has a great breakdown of what social anxiety is as well, if you’d like to read more. The Helpguide page also offers some great ways to deal with your social anxiety (which, to be honest, I am going to borrow from).
This Way Up also has a great article on social phobia. Check it out for some further insight.
In the end, social anxiety disorder is not fun, to the say the least. It can be quite debilitating, if not handled.
It starts with thinking about a situation. Many times, this is a social situation. You fear that you may be judged, scrutinized, or embarrassed somehow. It slowly becomes blown out of proportion, turning into something that feels uncontrollable. Just the thought of the situation and what may come of it (the judgements, the stares, the whatever) leads to debilitating anxiety that can become a disruptive force in your life.
Want to learn more about social anxiety disorder? Psychology Today breaks down its 7 key components.
Social anxiety disorder is disruptive, insidious, harmful, and debilitating. It’s one of those things that you either need to seek help with (one of the ways to combat it) or find ways to fight against it so you can fire on all cylinders and get back to living life to your fullest.
How to Combat Social Anxiety Disorder
Now to jump into the 6 ways to combat social anxiety disorder. I used combat because the word has a strong connotation. I don’t mean it in a way that it is a constant battle (which disorders can be), I mean it more in a way of taking it seriously so you can deal with it in a timely, strategic, and, productive manner (in other words, deal with it intelligently).
Before jumping in, check out the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) so you can assess your own Social Anxiety.
1. Start by Making a Hierarchy of Fear List
Just like writing a list down of things you need to do tomorrow so you can sleep better that night, making a list of your social anxiety fears in order of their severity can help you manage it better.
After your make your list, you can test them out. See if indeed the level that you rated them is true. If not, shift your list around. What you're doing here is breaking your social anxiety of potential situations into a more manageable list, instead of letting it rampant, leading you to become overwhelmed.
Some examples of items that may go on the list could include talking with a stranger, attending a party of some kind, or going to a live show.
Here is a website where you can download an exposure hierarchy worksheet.
2. Use a Deep Breathing Technique
Deep breathing can help to calm down your body in an anxiety-provoking situation – since one of the first things that happens when a situation of this type shows up is quick breathing.
Taking the time to learn to notice when this is happening and control your breathing can help.
Do the following when you notice a situation that leads to faster breathing. In fact, practice it every day so you know what to expect and what to do when the situation strikes.
For a further look into breathing, check out PsychCentral.
Check out this Youtube video explaining the process a little more in depth as well. It's actually a really good video in that it shows you how to breath to deal with social anxiety, and also gives a quick explanation of what it feels like and what it is.
3. Challenge Your Anxious, Fearful, Negative Thoughts
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and emotional about so many things – other people, the situation, what those other people are thinking, how you look, how you feel, etc. Be careful when dealing with how you perceive a situation – it’s oftentimes the trigger that can lead to you falling apart and suffering an anxiety attack in (or before) a situation.
The first thing to do is challenge thoughts that arise in the situation, or even in general. Say you anticipate going into a situation where the anxiety starts rising and you feel the panic set in.
Things you may think of are the zits on your face, the sweat on your brow, how you are shifting uneasily, or other things like that. Maybe others will start talking about some of those things as they observe them . And perhaps this leads you to thinking you will make a fool of yourself.
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
A lot of the time, the only things people notice – especially emotional ones – are those you tell them. Also, think about that time you thought you had a bit zit, for example. You thought everyone would notice it. But, a lot of the time you are the only one that notices it and thinks it’s big. It’s only when you point it out that they really notice it.
It's also OK to feel anxious when approaching those situations that provoke your anxiety.
4. Pick Up a Useful Book
I've provided plenty of additional links for you to dive into social anxiety disorder, which is one way to learn more about it, so you can deal with it better.
Another great thing is to pick up a book like the Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook.
There's plenty of help and information out there, you just have to apply it. I'm not saying it will be easy, but by using it, you can diminish the pain and suffering that social anxiety disorder is inflicting upon your life.
5. Get Professional Help
The best thing I recommend doing, especially when something like social anxiety disorder begins to interfere with your daily routines, is to seek professional help.
It should be in the form of a practicing therapist (e.g., PhD psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist).
Same may use this as a last resort, but I believe that seeking help is never a bad thing. In fact, it can be supplemental (and instrumental) in helping you out with the above things. These people have trained for many years to help you with the tools they have learned over those years. It is OK (and actually intelligent and strategic) to seek help of this kind.
There it is. I hope the above things help out. Remember to be patient with yourself, work through things slowly, and realize that it's a process - not an overnight thing. I believe you can diminish the impact social anxiety disorder has on your life with dedication and some effort.
Before ending, I want to provide three additional resources for you interested parties.
After the Session is an supplemental educational blog dealing with various psychology, counseling, and self-development topics.
To begin with, either scroll through the list on the left, or click into one of the archived months or categories below.