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We all have anxiety from time to time. But when social anxiety causes us to isolate ourselves or avoid parts of our lives, it may be time to seek help.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a psychological condition characterized by an intense fear of social situations. This can range from hanging out in small groups to larger social settings. Symptoms can vary but often include an overwhelming sense of anxiety before, during and after social interactions.

Symptoms and signs

It is important to understand that social anxiety symptoms can manifest themselves both physically and mentally. Common signs include:

  • Heart palpitations and sweating in social settings.
  • Anxiety or panic about meeting other people.
  • Fear of being judged or criticized by others.
  • Avoidance of social situations.
  • It is not uncommon for people with social phobia to also experience depression or other anxiety-related conditions.

Causes of social anxiety

Research points to a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors. Early experiences of criticism, bullying or anything else that makes you feel vulnerable in a social context can also contribute to the development of social anxiety.

Treatment options

A treatment for social anxiety varies depending on the severity of the condition. Common treatment methods include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours.
  • Medication: Treatment may include antidepressants or beta-blockers to control symptoms.
  • Self-help strategies and support groups: Developing coping strategies and a support netowkr can provide additional help and understanding.

Managing social anxiety in everyday life

There are several strategies that can be helpful:

  • Gradual exposure to social situations: Start with less challenging situations and work your way up.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: These can help reduce anxiety levels.
  • Seeking professional help: Working with a therapist can provide tools to manage anxiety.

When to seek help?

If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety that is affecting your ability to live a normal life, it is important to seek help. There is no shame in asking for support. The first step may be to make an appointment with a psychologist or therapist.



The paths to recovery

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most effective methods for treating social anxiety. Through CBT, individuals learn to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to their anxiety. This form of therapy often includes exercises in social situations and homework assignments aimed at gradually reducing anxiety.

Group therapy and support groups

Participating in groups with others who are also struggling with similar challenges can be hugely helpful. It offers a chance to share experiences, learn from others and feel less isolated in their struggle.

Medication

In some cases, medication such as antidepressants or beta-blockers can be part of the treatment. Medication can help manage the symptoms of anxiety and make it easier to participate in therapy and other activities.

Lifestyle changes and self-care

In addition to therapy and possibly medication, there are several lifestyle changes and self-care techniques that can help:

  • Regular exercise: Physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety levels.
  • Balanced diet: A nutritious diet can have a positive effect on your mental health.
  • Adequate sleep: Sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety symptoms.

Social anxiety does not have to define your life. With the right support and strategies, you can manage and even overcome your anxiety. The first step towards improvement is often the most difficult. Remember that help is always available at Lavendla.

Seeking help: the first step towards improvement

Admitting that you need help can be difficult, especially for someone struggling with anxiety. But seeking professional help is an important and courageous step. Here are some tips on how to approach this:

  • Identify the right specialist: Search among our therapists or psychologists who have experience in treating social anxiety.
  • Prepare for the first meeting: Write down your thoughts and symptoms to help you describe your situation.
  • Be open and honest: The more you share with your therapist, the better they can help you.

Online resources and support

In today’s digital world, there are many online resources for those struggling with social anxiety. Anxietycanada.ca is an excellent resource for adults and children with social anxiety. Additionally, further down in this article, you will find frequently asked questions and answers, as well as an overview of what treatment might look like. When you feel ready, you can easily book an initial video call with one of our therapists for more information or to start treatment.

Helping someone with social anxiety

If you know someone who suffers from social anxiety or avoids social situations, there are ways you can support them:

  • Listen without judgment: Sometimes we just need someone to listen. Approach the person with curiosity and respect for their experiences.
  • Encourage, but don’t force: Try to encourage them to seek help or participate in social activities, but respect their boundaries.
  • Learn more: Understanding more about social anxiety can help you be a better support.

Remind the person that they are not alone. Social anxiety is a common condition and there are many people and resources out there that can help. By seeking help, utilizing available resources, and practicing self-care, they can take control of their anxiety and live a more balanced and fulfilling life.



20 common questions and answers about social anxiety

How do you know if you have social anxiety?

If you experience persistent fear or anxiety in social situations, difficulties interacting with others, avoidance of social settings, and feelings of inadequacy, you may be experiencing social anxiety.

How do I get rid of my social anxiety?

Overcoming anxiety is a process that can include therapy, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), self-help strategies, and sometimes medication. Developing skills to manage anxiety, such as relaxation techniques and gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations, is important. Talking to a psychologist or therapist can provide support and targeted strategies to manage the anxiety.

How to help someone with social anxiety?

Supporting someone with social anxiety involves being understanding, listening without judgment, and encouraging but not forcing social interaction. Encouraging professional help can be important, as can showing empathy and understanding of their challenges. Providing information about anxiety and its management can also be helpful.

How to get rid of social phobia?

Managing social phobia can involve therapeutic approaches such as CBT, which teaches people to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. Self-help groups, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can also be useful. In some cases, medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, may be recommended by a doctor.

What is the difference between social anxiety and panic disorder?

Social anxiety focuses on the fear of social situations and the worry of being judged by others. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden, intense attacks of anxiety and physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating and shortness of breath. These two can overlap, but the treatment and management can vary depending on the specific diagnosis.

Is social anxiety hereditary?

Social anxiety can have genetic factors, but environment and life experiences also play a big role. In general, a combination of genetics, personal experiences and environmental factors contribute to the development of social anxiety.

What are the physical symptoms of social anxiety?

Physical symptoms of social anxiety can include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, dry mouth, upset stomach, muscle tension, and sometimes difficulty speaking. These symptoms often occur in social situations that provoke anxiety and may be part of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.

Can social anxiety lead to other mental health problems?

Social anxiety can increase the risk of other mental health problems such as depression, other anxiety disorders and substance abuse. It is important to seek help early to reduce the risk of these conditions developing or worsening.

How does treatment for social anxiety in children differ from adults?

Treatment for social anxiety in children often focuses on the family and school. Therapies such as play and art therapy can be used to help children express their feelings. For adults, treatment focuses more on individual therapies and self-help strategies, although family and social networks remain important support resources.

How to distinguish between shyness and social anxiety?

Shyness is a personality trait where a person may feel nervous or uncomfortable in social situations, but it does not necessarily prevent them from participating in them. Social situation anxiety is more intense and can lead to avoidance of social settings, significant anxiety and impact on daily activities and relationships.

Can diet and exercise influence social anxiety?

Diet and exercise can have a positive impact on mental health, including social anxiety. Regular exercise has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. A balanced diet can also contribute to better mental health. However, it is important to remember that these measures do not replace professional treatment, but can be complementary.

Are there self-help books that can help with social anxiety?

Yes, there are several self-help books that can be helpful for people with social anxiety. These books often offer strategies based on cognitive-behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques and other methods to manage anxiety. However, it is important to supplement the reading with professional counselling if necessary.

How does social media affect social anxiety?

Social media can both exacerbate and help manage social anxiety. On the one hand, comparison and exposure to idealized lifestyles on social media can increase feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. On the other hand, supportive online communities and access to information can be helpful. It is important to be aware of how social media affects your own level of anxiety.

What role do mindfulness and meditation play in the treatment of social anxiety?

Mindfulness and meditation are effective tools for managing social anxiety. These techniques help to focus on the present moment and reduce negative thought patterns. Regular practice can reduce stress, increase self-awareness and improve emotional regulation, which is important in the management of social anxiety.

How long does it take to overcome social anxiety?

The time it takes to overcome social anxiety varies from person to person. It depends on several factors, including the severity of the anxiety, the individual’s unique circumstances, and the type of treatment used. Some may notice improvements relatively quickly, while for others it may be a longer process. Patience and perseverance are important in this journey.

Can alcohol and drugs affect social anxiety?

Alcohol and drugs can temporarily reduce the symptoms of social anxiety but in the long term, they can make the condition worse. They can lead to increased dependence, tolerance development and a deterioration in overall mental health. Avoiding or reducing the use of these substances is an important part of the management and treatment of anxiety.

What role does sleep play in the management of social anxiety?

Good quality sleep is essential for mental health and can help manage social anxiety. Sleep deprivation can increase feelings of anxiety and stress, while regular and good sleep can improve emotional regulation and stress management. Maintaining a healthy sleep routine is an important part of managing anxiety.

Are there group treatments for social anxiety?

Yes, group treatments for social anxiety exist and can be very effective. In these groups, individuals have the opportunity to share experiences and strategies with others who are experiencing similar challenges. Group treatments often offer social skills exercises and exposure techniques in a safe and supportive environment.

How to deal with anxiety in social situations in real time?

To manage anxiety in real-time social situations, you can use breathing techniques, focus on the present moment (mindfulness), and use positive self-talk. It can also help to have a plan for the situation, such as preparing conversation topics or having an excuse to take a break if it becomes overwhelming.

What is the difference between social anxiety and introversion?

Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder where the fear of social situations is so intense that it affects a person’s ability to function in everyday life. Introversion is a personality trait where individuals prefer quiet, less stimulating environments and may enjoy being alone. Introverts may be comfortable in social situations, but they often need time alone to recharge their batteries afterwards.

Managing social anxiety: A step-by-step guide

Anxiety in social settings can be a challenging experience but with the right strategies and support it is possible to manage and improve the situation. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you or someone you know deal with anxiety.

1. Understanding social anxiety

Learn about what is affecting you: Understand the basic aspects of your type of anxiety, including its symptoms such as heart palpitations, difficulty speaking in social situations, and fear of being judged.

Identify your triggers: Try to identify situations or specific circumstances that trigger your anxiety. These can be social events, public speeches, or even small group situations.

2. Self-help and self-awareness

Breathing techniques: Learn breathing techniques and relaxation exercises that can help reduce anxiety in the moment.

Positive self-talk: Practice replacing negative thoughts with more positive and realistic statements.

Gradual exposure: Start with small, manageable social interactions and gradually build up to more challenging situations.

3. Seek professional help

Consult a therapist: Consider talking to one of our psychologists or therapists specializing in anxiety disorders.

Consider group therapy: Group therapy can provide support from others experiencing similar challenges.

Medical advice: In some cases, medication may be recommended. Discuss this with a doctor to understand the pros and cons.

4. Build a supportive network

Talk to loved ones: Share your experiences with family and friends who can offer support.

Seek support groups: Join online or local support groups where you can share experiences and get advice.

5. Long-term management

Set realistic goals: Set small, realistic goals for social interaction and gradually work towards them.

Keep a diary: Start keeping a diary of your progress as this can help you see your development over time.

Self-care: Prioritize self-care, including physical activity, good sleep and a nutritious diet.

A first step in seeking help

Anxiety in any situation is a challenge but it is important to remember that help is available. By understanding your anxiety, its symptoms and treatment options, you can take the first step towards a better and more comfortable life.

Remember that each person’s journey is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Take small steps and be patient with yourself. Our therapists are happy to guide you along the way. Book an initial consultation to get an idea of how they can help you. We make the difficult easier.


Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.