How to Deal with Social Anxiety Disorder

A teacher, Sara, is absent again today. In fact, she’s been on leave since she skipped her first lecture because she was afraid to introduce herself and speak to the class. Sara hates being the center of attention, and meeting new people and speaking in front of others are her worst nightmares.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the most common type of anxiety disorder. It is more than just the occasional nervousness or shyness nearly everyone faces in social situations. SAD is described as an intense fear that causes distress and weakens a person’s ability to function normally in daily life. The sufferer can’t help feeling fearful and anxious, even when they consciously understand that such fears are unreasonable. People with SAD avoid social situations because they fear being watched, judged, and evaluated by others. They feel inferior to others, and they also fear becoming a laughingstock for being thought of as inferior. Such people are overwhelmed with negative thoughts, such as “People will judge my communication skills because I can’t speak well”, “I will look like a fool”, “They all think I am a looser” or “ I will make mistakes and they will laugh at me because I am not as good as they are.”

SAD is very prevalent in the United States. According to National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 15 million adult Americans have struggled with social anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The intensity of the disorder varies from person to person. While SAD causes some to avoid a wide range of social situations, others may only avoid specific situations in which they have to perform for others.

There is a lot of help available for the person suffering from SAD. All it really takes is a little understanding, persistency and effort to overcome SAD. Currently, the most effective and successful method of treatment being used is Cognitive-Behavior therapy (CBT), which is used to identify the faulty thought patterns responsible for producing anxiety. For instance, if a person decides not to attend a wedding ceremony, the negative thought behind this might be, “I’ll look stupid when I talk to people,” or “I feel so ugly, and everyone at the wedding will be beautiful.” CBT seeks to analyze and challenge these thoughts. The SAD sufferer first has to ask whether or not such thoughts are realistic. Is he so unattractive that people will actually laugh at him? Is he really too unintelligent to hold the type of conversation that occurs at a wedding? Such a realistic and logical evaluation of his thoughts will make him realize that he is mistaken, and he can try to replace such negative thoughts with more realistic and positive thoughts and perceptions about himself, which should ease his anxiety.

Relaxation exercises also can be used to control anxiety symptoms. An anxious person tends to breathe rapidly, which can often lead to more anxiety symptoms, such as increased heartbeat or hyperventilation. Breathing exercises can help return control and instill calm during an anxiety-triggering situation. Sit comfortably and start inhaling slowly through the nose for four seconds, hold it for two seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth for six seconds. Keep doing this for several minutes, and the anxiety will lessen.

Another way to overcome SAD is simply to face fears. Avoiding things one fears causes those fears to stay and become even more powerful. Facing fears straight on is not easy, but using proper methods, one can certainly do so. Systematic desensitization is used to eliminate anxiety disorder systematically and gradually. Take one step at a time, be patient, stay calm and gradually face one challenging situation at a time. In a group therapy session, one learns about the social skills and participates in role-playing, mock interviews and practices confronting those situations that make one anxious in real life. These sessions give everyone a chance to speak, share and listen to others who may be facing the same sorts of problems and fears. While this approach may not completely eliminate your fears, it will certainly make them more manageable.

Building better relationships, participating in outdoor activities, having a healthy and balanced diet and adopting positive lifestyle can help you to get rid of your anxiety disorder. If one can stay motivated and persistent, it’s possible to conquer fear. But if self-help doesn’t work well, seek the support and help of a psychotherapist or psychologist.

*This article has been contributed by Dr. Tali Shenfield, Clinical Psychologist

Comments are closed.