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How to Help Your Social Anxiety Disorder

Updated on December 31, 2015

Social anxiety disorder is sometimes termed social phobia and falls under the umbrella of the anxiety disorders as listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The problem can be limited to a specific situation such as eating in public, talking on the telephone or the classic speaking in public (performance anxiety), which is very common.

Sufferers of social anxiety disorder can experience many triggers within social and performance settings where it would then be classified as generalized social anxiety disorder. It is also commonly linked to other anxiety disorders and in particular panic disorder as the level of suffering can induce panic attacks. Depression can both cause and be a result of social anxiety disorder.

The one thing that unites all people suffering from this disorder is fear of people because the presence of other people is the very catalyst for the problem to exist. There are no pressures or expectations of you as a person if you stay away from social situations, especially amongst strangers, although even family and friends can test you sometimes. Avoidance of certain situations is very common but can have a profound effect on your lifestyle.

Social anxiety can make you feel very isolated
Social anxiety can make you feel very isolated | Source

How Do I Know if I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder isn’t just a case of simple shyness. Here are some indications that you may have social anxiety disorder.

Behavioural Symptoms:

  • Avoiding social situations because of an excessive amount of apprehension or anticipatory anxiety.
  • Worrying for weeks even months ahead about a social situation you know will make you react fearfully.
  • A feeling of profound self-consciousness in social settings.
  • Fear of being watched, judged or criticized constantly.
  • Fear of humiliation.
  • Finding interaction with people very difficult and staying in the background at all costs.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Nausea, upset stomach
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intense blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Panic attacks

These are just a few examples but when the fears, worries, apprehension and avoidance severely interrupt your normal day to day activities you will feel a great need to seek help or treatment. There are of course some ways you can try to help yourself.

A good visual guide to correct a bad breathing habit

Self Help for Social Anxiety Disorder

Good Breathing Exercise:

Usually most breathing exercises will request that you sit in a comfortable chair and indeed if you can begin practice in that way it is ideal but a breathing exercise is something you can practice anywhere at any time. When we are anxious we tend to rapid and shallow breathe into our chest only and stop making full use of our diaphragm. This bad breathing habit can help create such sensations as dizziness, increased tension and actually the feeling that you cannot breathe! Try the following breathing exercise and practice it if only for a couple of minutes twice day. As your diaphragm gets more exercise it will become easier and easier with time. Don’t force more than is comfortable at first and be patient because practice makes perfect.

  • Drop your shoulders, flop your hands and arms.
  • Be aware of the tightness in other areas of your body and loosen this tension.
  • Place your hand on you tummy just underneath the ribcage.
  • Breathe in through your nose for as long as is comfortable feeling your tummy rise beneath your hand.
  • Hold your breath for as long as you can and without straining- three or four seconds is enough.
  • Release your breath through your mouth gently and slowly. Your tummy should fall back into place beneath your hand.

Facing the Situations You Fear:

Avoidance intensifies and maintains social anxiety disorder. Although it will seem like a huge challenge the avoidance issue should be addressed by facing the social situations you find distressing. List the situations you have problems with in order of the severity encountered. Start with the least stressful and practice being in that situation as in exposure therapy. Practice staying with any feelings or sensations that crop up and use the breathing exercise (without the hand if not convenient). Gradually work up to the more stressful situations. The ‘doing’ will be the ‘undoing’.

Keep a little book for negative and positive thoughts.
Keep a little book for negative and positive thoughts. | Source

Changing the Way You Think:

Be aware that apprehension creates a lot of negative and fearful scenario thoughts. The anticipatory anxiety long before an event or situation is very persuasive and will have a strong bearing on the outcome you experience. This is almost a case of ‘think something long enough and you will believe it’. An example may be that of the person who feels he will fail at a job interview. He may be convinced he will be lost for words and the interviewer will think him an idiot and unworthy of the job. Look at the self analysis in this example. He has no clear way of knowing how easy it may be to answer the questions but he assumes he will mess up. The interviewer will probably expect all interviewees to be nervous and will make allowances for this. Try to see the bigger picture in terms of reality. Write down your negative thoughts and replace them with more open, optimistic, positive thoughts. Keep reading these positive scenario thoughts over and over to replace the negative ones.

What are you most afraid of?

See results

Changing Your Focus:

A person suffering with social anxiety disorder assumes he is under scrutiny by others and that his anxious behaviors and feelings will be noticed by everyone thus compounding the situation. This is rarely true. Other people are often too busy thinking about what they are doing and other mundane everyday thoughts to be scrutinizing you. If a group situation or any performance issue holds great fear for you, practice thinking outwardly instead of internalizing your thoughts. Self analysis in these situations produces a rapidly growing sense of fear and the physical sensations described above become more intense. Observe everything outside of you. Look at the style of a person’s hair, the wallpaper, focus on what someone is saying, anything and everything outside of you. This takes practice but will help stop the inward, self analysis thinking.

Bananas are a good anti anxiety food.
Bananas are a good anti anxiety food. | Source

Changing Some Lifestyle Habits:

  • Reduce or stop caffeine intake
  • Get more exercise
  • Eat a healthier diet with fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Be sure to get a good amount of sleep every day
  • Cut down or stop smoking
  • Take up meditation or a relaxation technique
  • Drink two cups of chamomile tea every day
  • Take a B-Complex vitamin every day
  • Allow yourself only 20 minutes of worry time each day

None of this is easy but with determination and constant practice things can improve.

Other Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Classes in improving self-esteem or self assertiveness
  • Medications such as benzodiazepines (avoided if possible or used on an as needed basis only) or antidepressants.

Remember medications are often only a sticking plaster solution. To address the problem head on is the way forward to true recovery.


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