Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder
Growing up, Sandy often felt isolated from kids at school, reading alone at lunch rather than sitting with others. Sometimes it felt like she was living behind a glass wall—she wanted to engage with people and had things to say, but she felt afraid and nauseous at the thought of being so visible to others.
Because Sandy believes she is just shy, her anxiety in social situations has accompanied her into adulthood. She feels depressed and helpless against the tide of her fears. Sandy hasn’t been in many relationships. Her daily activities seem to revolve around her anxiety; she works at a job where she doesn’t have to interact much with people, she grocery shops later at night when she knows the store won’t be busy, and she drives even when it would be more time efficient to take the bus.
It’s likely that Sandy’s social trouble is much more than shyness and stems, instead, from a social anxiety disorder. If something in Sandy’s story resonates with you, understanding what a social anxiety disorder is and accepting treatment for it can help you lead a fuller, happier life.
You can learn to become stronger than your fears; you can do all the things your worry has been holding you back from.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Many people experience shyness or hesitation before a big social gathering or performance, but having a social anxiety disorder means that you feel excessively fearful days, weeks, or months before a social event. You’re so afraid you’ll be watched and judged by others that you might avoid the situation altogether, calling in sick or saying something came up at the last minute.
Social anxiety disorder doesn’t feel good—you might have sweaty palms, a racing heart, or feelings of lightheadedness. Sometimes these symptoms are all you can think about. You’re terrified others will notice you’re having a hard time speaking or that your legs are shaking.
You might experience social anxiety in very specific situations, like public speaking, or your social anxiety might be broader and affect you across the board. Situations that might trigger your social anxiety include eating in front of people, signing a receipt in front of the cashier, being the center of attention, and speaking up in class.
If you have social anxiety disorder, maybe you’re afraid to go anywhere without a friend or family member. Maybe you feel like you need a few drinks before a social event in order to survive it.
Can therapy help?
Social anxiety is painful. It’s all too easy to feel helpless in the struggle to control the stress, loneliness, and frustration that come with it. Simply recognizing your pain and fear as a social anxiety disorder is an important first step toward getting better. If you’ve tried over and over again to beat social anxiety but are feeling disheartened, there is one thing you can still do—ask for help.
With social anxiety, negative thoughts overwhelm you as you engage with others. You might cycle through thoughts like, “they will think I look ridiculous,” “I’m going to embarrass myself,” or “I’m never going to have any friends.”
Even if you recognize some of these thoughts as unrealistic, it can be hard to carry on in spite of them when they’re constantly cycling through your mind. Therapy can help you recognize negative thought patterns. You’ll learn to replace those thoughts over time with a more realistic and positive outlook.
You might learn about mindfulness in therapy—being present in the situation and noticing that others aren’t reacting as negatively to you as you believe—or practice a few breathing exercises to help bring you back to yourself during high-anxiety moments.
You may also heal core negative beliefs you carry about yourself and develop a new way of relating to yourself. This may involve learning self-compassion and self-acceptance and practicing these skills on a regular basis.
Because social anxiety disorder can make you feel embarrassed and ashamed, it can live with you for a long time. The good news is that you really can overcome it and live a life you genuinely want and enjoy.
Contact one of our counselors in Houston for help overcoming social anxiety. Our therapists are available for face to face sessions as online therapy sessions in limited areas.
To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
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