Some people love being in the company of others and can’t wait to be around a lot of people. Yet this may be a different story for people living with social anxiety disorder.
If you have social anxiety, or social phobia, interacting with people on a social level doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, it can feel downright frightening.
Social anxiety disorder may cause self-consciousness and excessive worry and fear about social situations. You may fear being judged or humiliated in front of others.
In addition, socializing can invoke physical symptoms, such as:
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
Social anxiety can affect your interactions at school or work, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life. Treatment can help you manage the condition and become more comfortable in social situations.
Here’s a look at a few ways to treat social anxiety.
Benefits of therapy
There are a few benefits of therapy. The main one is that you can discuss your thoughts and feelings with your therapist, and they can help you discover the root cause of your social anxiety.
Other benefits of therapy can include:
- creating a plan to help overcome your anxiety
- having a safe space to express fears
- developing skills to acknowledge your triggers
- building healthier habits to deal with anxiety
If your social anxiety seems too overwhelming to handle, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional. Psychotherapy is an effective treatment on its own and might be even more effective when combined with medication.
In psychotherapy, you’ll learn techniques to change negative thoughts about yourself. This type of therapy can help you get to the root of your anxiety.
Through role-playing and other methods, you’ll learn how to improve your interactions in social settings, which can help build your confidence.
You may want to join a local or online support group for social anxiety. Here, you’ll connect with people who understand what you’re going through because they’re managing the same condition.
In a support group, you can share your experiences, learn coping techniques from others, and perhaps role-play together.
Speaking with a group and relating your fears is also excellent practice for interacting with others in social settings.
Realize you’re not alone
Support groups are a great reminder that you’re not the only one living with this type of phobia. Social settings and interactions are a source of anxiety and fear for lots of people.
If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing or being judged by people, keep in mind that others feel the same way. Remembering this can help as you navigate social situations.
Because social anxiety can be a severe, ongoing disorder, a mental health professional may prescribe medication to help you cope.
There are several types of medication for social anxiety disorder, and your doctor can help you determine which one might be right for you.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are often the first-line treatment for social anxiety and depression.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter, a molecule that helps send messages throughout your body. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and anxiety.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
If an SSRI doesn’t improve social anxiety, your doctor may prescribe another type of antidepressant to improve symptoms.
This may be an SNRI such as:
These medications also signal changes in brain chemistry to help improve mood and anxiety.
Some antidepressants work better than others, and antidepressants that work well in one person may not work well in another. That’s why your doctor may need to prescribe different medications until you find one that works for your individual symptoms.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
If your social anxiety is severe enough that you experience panic attacks, your doctor may prescribe you MAOIs. These are antidepressants that help prevent panic attacks.
MAOIs also work with chemicals in your brain to stop monoamine oxidase, which is the removal of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and other chemicals that elevate your mood
Some popular forms of this drug are phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate), which have been shown to help with panic attacks.
Beta-blockers are commonly used to reduce high blood pressure but are sometimes prescribed to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate, sweating, or tremors.
These medications — which include propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin) — block the stimulating effects of adrenaline. Beta-blockers are also an option for performance anxiety, which is a type of social anxiety.
Anti-anxiety medications are also prescribed for social anxiety. Some of these medications include:
These medications tend to work quickly, but they can be habit-forming or have a sedative effect. For this reason, your doctor may not prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for the long term.
Anti-anxiety medications shouldn’t be the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders. However, doctors also know that some people won’t adequately respond to other types of treatment.
The decision to use these medications will need to be made after a discussion with your doctor, weighing how they may benefit you against the chance of dependence.
If your social anxiety isn’t severe, there are alternative methods you can take in place of, or in addition to, traditional methods to reduce the amount of anxiety you face when you are in social situations.
Alternative therapies along with conventional treatment might also reduce anxiety and help you cope with social phobia.
Some alternative therapies to consider include:
Lifestyle changes may also have a positive impact on anxiety in general. If you’re able to reduce your overall anxiety level, it might be easier to cope in social settings.
Getting regular physical activity is one change you can make. Exercise increases your brain’s production of endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that regulate mood and anxiety. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
You can also lessen anxiety by knowing your limitations. Having too much on your plate can heighten anxiety, so practice saying no to events you don’t really want to attend and try your best to prioritize rest, relaxation, and self-care.
Avoid or limit caffeine
Caffeinated drinks — such as coffee, tea, and soda — can provide a much-needed pick-me-up. But if you have anxiety, caffeine can make you feel worse, and it might even trigger panic attacks.
If you can’t give up coffee or tea, try to cut back on the amount you consume each day.
Even though up to 400 milligrams per day is safe for healthy adults, according to the
So, you might need to drink less of it if you’re managing social anxiety.
Practice being social
Practice can be a great weapon against social anxiety.
Rather than fear social settings, ease into these situations with baby steps. Simply avoiding social interactions could potentially worsen anxiety.
You can also practice talking to people. For example, say “Good morning” or offer a compliment to a coworker. This can be as simple as, “I like your hair.”
Also try to make eye contact when speaking with people. If you’re in a retail store, you can take a small step like asking a sales associate for help.
Prepare for social events
Rather than turn down invitations to all social events, prepare for them in advance. Role-playing and practicing conversation starters is an excellent way to build confidence.
If you’re aware of the guest list, consider the interests of those attending. Maybe someone recently went on vacation or started a new job. If so, prepare a few questions to break the ice and pave the way for a conversation.
Avoid questions with a yes or no answer, though. Remember, the idea is to converse. So, instead of asking, “Did you enjoy your trip to Florida?” ask “What did you like about your trip to Florida?”
In most cases, the other person will open up and get the conversation started. The more you talk, the less anxious you’ll feel, and it’ll be easier to speak with others.
Although anxiety and fear in social settings are common, you may feel that you’re alone or that your situation is hopeless. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Treatment can help you overcome your phobia. You can start with home remedies such as exercise and deep breathing.
But if these don’t work, talk with your doctor about prescription medication or counseling. Mental health professionals can help you cope with anxiety and become more sociable.
Visit the American Psychiatric Association website to find a mental health professional in your area.