Some people love being in the company of others and can’t wait to get their next invitation to an event. It’s a different story for people living with social anxiety.
If you have social anxiety or social phobia, interacting with people on a social level doesn’t come naturally. In fact, it can be downright frightening. This 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, and 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 win the fight and become more comfortable in social situations.
Here’s a look at 12 ways to treat social anxiety.
If you’re embarrassed by your social anxiety, you might hesitate to speak with a mental health professional. However, psychotherapy is an effective treatment and might be even more effective when combined with medication.
You’ll learn techniques to change negative thoughts about yourself. Talk therapy can help you get to the root of your anxiety. Through role-playing, you’ll learn how to improve your interactions in social settings, which can build your confidence.
Because social anxiety can be a severe, ongoing disorder, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you cope. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the first-line treatment for social anxiety and depression.
These medications — which include paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) — work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain, which is an important neurotransmitter. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and anxiety.
If an SSRI doesn’t improve social anxiety, your doctor may prescribe another type of antidepressant to improve symptoms. This includes a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR), or levomilnacipran (Fetzima).
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. Your doctor may have to prescribe different drugs until you find one that works for your symptoms.
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 long-term.
Anti-anxiety medications shouldn’t be the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, but 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 with your doctor after a discussion about how they may benefit you and weighing the risk of addiction.
Alternative therapies in conjunction 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 to incorporate. 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 learn how to say no.
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, cut back on the amount you consume each day. Even though up to 400 milligrams per day is safe for healthy adults, you might need to drink less if you’re prone to anxiety.
Practice is your best weapon against social anxiety. Rather than fear social settings, ease into these situations with baby steps. Avoiding social interactions may only worsen anxiety.
You can practice talking to people. For example, say “good morning” or offer a compliment to a coworker. This compliment can be as simple as, “I like your hair.”
Also, make eye contact when speaking to people. Or if you’re in a retail store, muster up boldness to ask a sales associate for help.
Rather than turn down invitations to social events, prepare for these events 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.
Also, it helps to remember that you’re not the only one who deals with this type of phobia. Social settings are a source of anxiety and fear for lots of people.
If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing and being judged by others, keep in mind that others feel the same way, and they’re busy focusing on themselves to worry about you. Keeping this in perspective can help.
Look into joining a local or online support group for social anxiety. Here, you’ll connect with people who understand what you’re going through. You can share experiences, coping techniques, and perhaps role-play together.
Speaking to a group and relating your fears is also excellent practice for interacting 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 to 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 to find a mental health professional in your area.