You’re walking up to a party. There’s music, laughter, and dancing. Conversations are loud and animated. You see some people you don’t recognize. Do you walk in, find a friend, and start introducing yourself to the new faces? Or does the thought of talking to people keep you from even going in or send you scrambling to find the nearest corner that’s utterly devoid of humans?
If the thought of mingling with a crowd makes your skin crawl, you may experience Social Anxiety Disorder. But there are treatment options for anxiety, including social anxiety.
Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder causes excessive worry, stress, and anxiety around the thought of being judged or becoming embarrassed within social settings, so much so that it interferes with a person’s daily life.
The critical component of SAD is that a person has a nearly insurmountable concern about being seen in a negative light by others. This concern could look like being afraid of embarrassing themselves or having a sense of dread about coming off as boring or stupid. But the fear is so extreme that they would rather avoid social events or places where there will be many people or unfamiliar people.
SAD is not a label to give to children or adults who are simply more shy or introverted. Rather, it is a persistent and distressing mental health concern that is a mental health professional diagnosis.
How Prevalent is SAD?
SAD affects 15 million adults, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This mental health concern is also found to be equally common among women and men in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Additionally, the ADAA reports that 36% of people experiencing SAD symptoms wait 10 or more years before seeking treatment.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Once someone is diagnosed with SAD, what are their treatment options? Much like all mental health concerns, there’s a wide array of treatments for anxiety.
The most popular SAD treatments are:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT looks at a person’s thoughts and behaviors and the connection between them. A counselor can help a person identify their unhelpful thoughts and work to reveal how these thoughts lead to specific actions or behaviors. Once identified, the person can work to change their thoughts so their behavior also changes.
- Exposure Therapy. Exposure Therapy involves slowly exposing the person to their fear using gradual steps while practicing relaxation, grounding, and mindfulness techniques to lessen the severity of anxiety symptoms. As a person with SAD slowly exposes themselves to situations that cause them anxiety, the idea is that the feared situation won’t have so much power over them.
- Group Therapy. Group Therapy for people experiencing SAD may involve support groups with others managing the same condition, either in-person or online. The group gives the person supportive peers who know what they’re going through and allows them to practice social skills and engage in safe social situations.
Which Treatment for Anxiety is the Best?
Melisse Prusinkski, Clinical Manager of Morningstar Women’s Program at Integrative Life Center, said a mix of individual and group therapy is the best option for treating social anxiety.
“Social anxiety can be triggered in a safe environment. With support, you can figure out how to heal the underlying reasons that the social anxiety became pervasive,” she said. “You will feel the connection of the group.”
She said treatment for social anxiety is the scariest thing a person can do because treatment triggers the anxiety to help conquer it.
“Unfortunately for those with social anxiety, healing can’t happen in isolation. That’s why individual therapy alone probably won’t work,” she said. “Most maladaptive behaviors take over when a person was alone.”
Integrative Life Center offers a combination of individual and group therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder and holistic and non-traditional healing practices such as yoga, acupuncture, and equestrian therapy.
Helpful Practices for Social Anxiety
Melisse said people with Social Anxiety Disorder help themselves by learning their triggers and where they originated.
“Many times there was an early trauma where rejection or abandonment was perceived,” she said.
Once they determine where the trigger originated, people can use things like daily mantras, intentionally connecting with others, finding groups for social activities like sports, meditation, or volunteering, Melisse suggested.
“When a person goes to a social event they can share their feelings with a supportive person,” she said.
Other tips for people dealing with anxiety include:
- Learn about social anxiety
- Limit or lessen caffeine and alcohol intake
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Drink more water
- Practice breathing and relaxation techniques
- Rely on your support system
- Seek help from a mental health professional
How Can ILC Help
Integrative Life Center offers unique and individualized treatment plans for each person ready to start their healing journey. If you or someone you know is dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder and wants more information or resources, reach out to ILC today.