The experts at Cognitive Behavior Associates estimate that roughly 7% of the American population experiences social anxiety on a regular basis. That means that at every one hundred plus person wedding you attend, there are probably at least other six people who know exactly how you feel. That being said, the precise way in which each person processes anxiety is unique to the individual. Therefore, even when you clearly aren’t alone in your discomfort, it can still feel as though you are.
How Anxiety Works
Generally speaking, the National Institute of Mental Health classifies social anxiety as a feeling of fear or foreboding before and during a social interaction. Oftentimes, the person experiencing the anxiety is afraid that they others will evaluate them based on their ability to interact “normally.” It is the fear of being judged and being found insufficient that drives the intense avoidance of possible shame or embarrassment.
As a result, many people with social anxiety find the condition to be a self-fulfilling prophecy where their anxiety causes interactions to feel strained, resulting in their being rebuffed or avoided by others. Unfortunately, these experiences tend to intensify social anxiety over time, so early treatment is one of your best defenses.
Therapy is, fortunately, becoming a far more acceptable part of our society, which is finally allowing people from all walks of life to seek the help they desperately need without the fear of judgement. Your current medical provider is a great place to start. Describe your symptoms including their severity and frequency. In some cases, keeping a symptom journal can be helpful both during initial diagnosis as well as during treatment.
There are two paths your treatment can take: therapy and medication. In most cases, your medical provider will suggest a combination of both, especially if therapy alone is initially unsuccessful after a designated trial period. If your doctor advises that you begin taking medications right away, make sure you are fully informed regarding their purpose and potential side effects.
The Medication Route
The National Institute of Mental Health identifies three main categories of medications used to treat anxiety. They include anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, and beta blockers.
- Anti-anxiety Medications: Benzodiazepines are the most common family of anti-anxiety medications. Highly effective at quickly treating symptoms for short periods of time, these drugs can also illicit a withdrawal response, so your doctor will want to taper your dosage prior to switching you to a long-term treatment solution.
- Anti-depressants: Despite their name, anti-depressants can also be an effective mode of treatment for anxiety, as they change the way your brain uses certain chemicals, potentially altering the way you process stress. Unfortunately, anti-depressants do take time to take effect, and you will likely try a few different medications before finding one that works for you.
- Beta-Blockers: These medications are used to treat the physical symptoms of social anxiety, including rapid heartbeat and shaking. They are only a temporary solution, as you use other methods to treat the underlying issue.
The Therapy Route
Although you may use medication throughout your struggle to put your anxiety in its place, therapy offers a potential, permanent solution to many patients. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) is one of the most common treatment paths for people who need a space to challenge the self-distortion that is responsible for their anxiety in the first place.
During CBT, patients are taught to identify the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that lay the foundation of their social anxiety. By figuring out what is causing the adverse reaction, patients can, with the guidance of experienced counselors, begin to rework their behavior and deal with stress in a new way. By taking patients through the growth process, counselors are able to help patients give themselves a new lease on life, one that isn’t controlled by their anxiety.