Social anxiety disorder affects approximately seven percent of American adults and often begins in childhood or the early teenage years. This disorder is likely caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors.
Clinical Diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder
For an adult* to be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, according to the DSM-5 (the manual clinicians use to diagnose mental health disorders), the individual would
- experience marked fear or anxiety (considered excessive in comparison to what the average person might experience) about how he or she will be perceived by others in social situations.
- either avoid social situations due to fear of extreme distress or endure the situations with intense fear or anxiety.
- exhibit symptoms that persist for at least 6 months.
Social Anxiety Components
Social anxiety can feel overwhelming—like an avalanche of discomfort in situations such as talking to acquaintances, speaking in public or attending a party. It can help to break down the social anxiety into three main components:
- Physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, mind “racing” or “going blank,” flushing, etc.
- Cognitions (or thoughts) about how others view you or predictions about humiliating yourself or being rejected by others
- Behaviors, which include what you do when socially anxious (example: spend a lot of time in the restroom at a party) and what you don’t do (example: avoiding eye contact, talking only to “safe” people you know well, etc.). This video describes common “safety” behaviors in social anxiety.
These three components feed upon each other and can create a downward spiral of anxiety, but understanding your patterns is the first step in changing them.
3 Tips for Overcoming Social Anxiety
- Be your own personal scientist. Observe your social interactions objectively, as though you are a scientist observing an experiment. For the next week, write down the details of each triggering social situation, including your physical symptoms and thoughts as well as your behaviors (what you do and don’t do).
- Challenge unhelpful thinking. Using your observations as a personal scientist, look at the automatic thoughts you had when experiencing social anxiety. Were you imagining others were talking negatively about you? Were you labelling yourself a loser? You’ll likely notice some common thought patterns. Look at each thought and determine whether it might be one of these cognitive distortions. Next, challenge the unhelpful thought using these questions. Then, write down a more rational and balanced replacement thought.
- Face your fears head on. Create and execute behavioral experiments that test your beliefs about social situations. (This is essentially known as Exposure and Response Prevention, an evidence-based therapy that is often used to treat various anxiety disorders by gradually facing and reducing the fear.) The National Social Anxiety Center offers several videos that explain how to create effective behavioral experiments. Click to watch the first video.
Much progress can be achieved in addressing social anxiety with the tips above. However, you can also benefit from the help of knowledgeable therapists at Travco Behavioral Health.
Contact Travco today to learn more about our treatment