Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that treats a variety of mental health concerns in children, teens and adults. Our team of therapists specializes in counseling for anxiety disorders including social anxiety. To learn more about our services or how therapy can help you or a loved one who’s struggling with social anxiety, contact us today. To find out more about our licensed clinicians and their specialty areas, check out our team page.
What Is Social Anxiety?
It’s normal to feel nervous in certain social or performance situations, like how going on a first date or giving a presentation may cause butterflies in your stomach. It’s also normal to at least sometimes worry a bit too much about what others think of you. So what sets Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, apart from typical nervousness?
In social anxiety disorder, anxiety is severe and persistent, and everyday interactions cause significant feelings of fear, embarrassment and self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by avoidance of social and performance situations where a person might be judged, criticized or rejected, and it can be so serious that it interferes with daily routines, work, school, and important relationships.
People with social anxiety almost always experience physical symptoms, and worry about appearing visibly anxious when their anxiety is triggered. These physical symptoms might include things like blushing, stumbling over words, sweating, or rapid heart-rate, and can develop into a full-blown panic attack. People dealing with social anxiety usually know that their reactions are unreasonable, and want to control them so that they can be more social, but feel powerless against their anxiety.
Common situations that can trigger social anxiety might include:
- Going on dates
- Job interviews
- Public speaking
- Business meetings
- Reading aloud in class
- Meeting with an authority figure
- Being the center of attention
What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
It’s important to note that everybody is different and it’s normal for comfort levels in social situations to vary depending on factors like personality and life experience. Some people are naturally more reserved and shy, especially during childhood, and this isn’t necessarily a sign of social anxiety disorder or that a child will one day develop social anxiety. On the other hand, some people are naturally more outgoing and extroverted, and these people can have social anxiety too.
People with social anxiety disorder tend to have lower self-esteem and put a lot of energy into avoiding their triggers. As a result, social anxiety commonly manifests in the following behaviors:
- Apologizing often
- Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
- Avoiding smiling at people or making eye contact
- Finding excuses to leave a situation, like going to the bathroom
- Keeping conversations focused toward others rather than yourself
- Leaving social situations abruptly
- Mentally checking out of situations, or daydreaming
- Not contributing or saying very little in conversations
- Seeking frequent reassurance from others
- Spending excessive amounts of time preparing for social situations
- Trying to blend in or not draw attention to yourself
- Using alcohol to cope in social situations
Physical symptoms can, and often do, accompany social anxiety. These might include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Feeling that your mind has gone blank
- Muscle tension
- Shaky voice
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
How Does Social Anxiety Affect You?
Social anxiety disorder, when left untreated, can significantly impact your life. Social anxiety symptoms tend to be very disruptive and can interfere with daily routines, performance at work or school, and interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety also has negative mental health consequences, as people with the disorder are at an increased risk for developing clinical depression and substance use disorders.
Harmful effects of social anxiety can include:
- Hypersensitivity to criticism
- Inferior academic and career achievement
- Isolation and loneliness
- Low self-esteem
- Poor social skills
- Relationship issues
- Substance abuse
- Lack of assertiveness
- Negative self-talk
Self-Help Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety
Although social anxiety disorder generally requires help from a mental health professional like a therapist or counselor, there are some strategies that you can employ on your own to reduce symptoms, improve coping abilities, and overcome personal hurdles. Treatment isn’t always available or affordable, and if you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety, we recommend the following self-help strategies to deal with social anxiety disorder in a healthy and effective way.
Ask for Help with Getting Help
Sometimes, having social anxiety can make it especially difficult to seek professional help. Reaching out to strangers can be very tough for someone with social anxiety, but there are ways around this. Fear shouldn’t stop you from getting the help that you deserve for your mental health needs. If your social anxiety is keeping you from starting counseling, we recommend:
- Asking a supportive family member or friend to contact a therapist or psychologist for you first. They can even help you set up your first appointment.
- Writing an email to the mental health professional that you’d like to meet with instead of making a phone call. This tends to be easier for people with social anxiety. (At IDENTITY, we make it easy to write a quick online message to set up an appointment with any of our therapists through our contact page.)
- Finding a therapist who practices online therapy. In recent years, more and more counseling practices offer online therapy. There are also apps and platforms to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in your online therapist.
Self-care is always important when it comes to managing your mental health. There’s so much that you can do to care for your emotional and psychological well-being, but below we’ve narrowed down some of the best self-care strategies for social anxiety disorder in particular. If you have social anxiety, consider making time for following self-care steps:
- Join a local or online support group for people with social anxiety
- Get regular physical exercise in a way that you enjoy
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
- Create healthy sleeping habits
- Read a book about social anxiety
- Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga
- Volunteer in your community
- Perform random acts of kindness for others
- Make time for hobbies that help you relax
Practice Your Social Skills
Knowing that you’re prepared and have put in the work is always a good way to reduce anxiety. We recommend applying this mindset to your social life. Start by thinking about your recent social encounters. Try to Identify the social skills that could use the most improvement or that you most commonly avoid. Below are some strategies for practicing and developing your social and communication skills:
- Assertiveness – Many people with social anxiety have low self-confidence and lack assertiveness when communicating with others. Learn to become more assertive by making a point to practice communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of “I” statements, like “I feel disrespected when you interrupt me in meetings.”
- Nonverbal communication – People with social anxiety often adopt a “closed-off” stance in social situations and are reluctant to make direct eye contact or start conversations with others. They usually do these things without even realizing it, and aren’t aware of how it may be received. Practice relaxed posture, eye contact, and holding your hands at your sides to help you appear more confident and approachable in social situations.
- Verbal communication – Learning how to converse well with others can be very beneficial in reducing social anxiety symptoms. Practice joining in group conversations by listening first and then making a comment about what’s already being discussed. For example, “Are you talking about the midterm exam? I couldn’t figure out the extra credit question either.” It’s also important to practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself.
Tell Others About Your Social Anxiety
Your close friends and family may already know or have an idea that you have social anxiety, but it can be therapeutic, cathartic, and helpful in everyday life to share with others about your condition. If someone is important to you, talking with them about your symptoms and experiences can help them gain a better understanding of what you’re going through, and in turn, build a deeper and stronger connection between the two of you. If you’re feeling nervous to tell a friend or loved one that you have social anxiety, try to arrange a time where you can sit down and talk quietly and uninterrupted. You can also make a list of bullet points that you feel are important; this will help you if you tend to freeze up or your mind goes blank when you’re feeling nervous.
It can also be beneficial to talk to your employer about your social anxiety so that you can receive accommodations or support that you might need in the workplace.
How Can IDENTITY Help?
Social anxiety disorder is a chronic mental health condition, but it does respond well to treatment. Treatment from a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, or psychologist has been known to greatly reduce symptoms, improve confidence, and increase the quality of life for those with social anxiety.
Psychological counseling or psychotherapy, has proven to be very beneficial, and many forms of therapy are known to be effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular approach for social anxiety, as it works by helping patients identify and combat the incorrect and negative beliefs about themselves that actually worsen their social anxiety. In therapy, the clinician and the patient work together to help the patient improve their coping skills and develop stronger self-confidence, engaging in exercises like social skills training, role-playing, and exposure therapy.
IDENTITY is a psychotherapy practice located in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in treating social anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists are experienced in helping patients overcome and cope with social anxiety, and are passionate about seeing clients achieve growth and accomplish their goals. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and you or someone you love is dealing with social anxiety, contact us today to schedule an intake or learn more about our counseling services.