Social Anxiety Disorder – What It Is and How To Treat It

A friend turns down invitations to gatherings that will include more than three or four people she knows. A family member accepts invitations but always backs out at the last minute. You accept whatever reason they offer but wonder if there’s something more going on.

Could they be struggling with social anxiety disorder? Social anxiety disorder. Social phobia. Different names….the same overwhelming emotions. 

Studies show that social anxiety disorder is one of the most common lifetime anxiety-mood disorders in the US, and 13% of the population will experience it at some time in their lives. 

Defining Social Anxiety

“Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends.”

National Institute of Mental Health

It’s normal to feel nervous when you’re in a new situation — a new school, a new job, or  a new potential partner. We can all become a bundle of nerves when we’re trying something we’ve never tried before.

But when the nervousness goes beyond new situations, and normal, everyday circumstances cause overwhelming worry, it’s a good idea to take note of what you’re feeling.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms that may point to something more than simple nervousness include both physiological reactions and thought patterns:

  • A racing heart
  • Nervousness that turns to nausea
  • Difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Extreme self-consciousness
  • Avoidance of people in general, and strangers in particular
  • Extreme fear of what others think about you
  • Extreme worry about being rejected

Cleveland Clinic suggests that someone who experiences these symptoms may face them in every social situation, or they may find that some social environments trigger them more than others. 

Factors That Contribute to Its Development

You may be wondering what causes someone to develop these symptoms at all. A number of factors contribute to social anxiety disorder, and Mayo Clinic puts them into three categories:

  • Inherited Traits – Anxiety disorders seem to be passed down in families.
  • Brain Structure – An overactive amygdala may contribute to increased fear in some who struggle with social anxiety disorder.
  • Environment – Individuals may also learn the behavior. As children, they may have seen anxiety modeled by adults, or they may have experienced a particularly embarrassing social situation that has kept them on high alert since. 

Someone with social phobia may have one or more of these factors contributing to their angst. 

“Like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder likely arises from a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors.”

Mayo Clinic

Identifying Social Anxiety

It’s important to identify when you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder versus feeling a little nervous about something new. The National Institute for Mental Health explains that social anxiety disorder isn’t simply shyness. When someone’s shy, they may be quieter in social situations or hesitant to go up and introduce themselves to a stranger.

When someone’s struggling with social anxiety disorder, the feelings of worry and fear are nearly overwhelming, and the individual may even feel they can’t control their reactions. Going to school, work, or anywhere other people will be can trigger the symptoms. Mayo Clinic Press lists other possible triggers:

  • Going to social gatherings, especially among strangers
  • Initiating a conversation
  • Walking into a room that other people are already in
  • Asking someone for help
  • Looking others in the eyes
  • Going on a date

Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

If you or a loved one feels triggered by any of the above situations, worrying that it’s because of social anxiety disorder, you don’t have to go it alone. Outpatient therapy has proven to be effective in providing strategies for overcoming fear and improving quality of life. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One outpatient therapy used often to treat anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals to recognize distorted patterns of thinking, face their fears, develop problem-solving skills to use when they’re in a difficult situation, and grow in self-confidence. 

Medication Management

Medication may be used alongside CBT as part of a comprehensive outpatient therapy plan. When coupled with therapy, medication treatment of anxiety is generally considered safe and effective. What’s important is giving the treatment enough time and being patient as therapists work to find the best medication for each individual. 

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

In addition to CBT and medication, alternative treatments can provide support for individuals in outpatient therapy. 

“Consuming probiotic-rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, natto, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, tempeh and more can help reduce anxiety in those suffering from social anxiety disorder. Combining a diet rich with fermented foods and adequate exercise can help improve social anxiety disorder symptoms.”

Dr. Axe
  • Nutrition and Supplements – In addition to the probiotic-rich foods Dr. Axe mentions, Harvard Health says that foods providing magnesium help reduce anxiety. That’s leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard along with nuts, legumes, and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to reduced anxiety as well, so if you don’t already eat salmon, try adding it to your diet or looking for fish oil supplements. A healthcare professional can help you determine the best supplements for you. 
  • Exercise – We’ve previously discussed exercise as a holistic treatment for depression. It can also be a powerful stress reliever. Harvard Health points out that exercise takes your mind off what’s causing the stress, decreases muscle tension, and changes the brain’s chemistry by loading it up with the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter serotonin. 

Those suffering with social anxiety disorder may feel that it’s a challenge too difficult to overcome. It’s easy to understand why someone would feel that way, but help is available. Outpatient therapy has proven to be effective and can include a number of modalities in a customized plan for each individual. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing social phobia, there’s no reason to struggle alone. Reach out to the professionals at Best Day. They’re trained to help you live your best life.