Footprints to Recovery

Social Anxiety Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Lisa Tomsak, DO

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It’s natural to feel anxious once in a while. Anxiety is a normal human emotion. If it starts to be a common occurrence, however, it may point to a more serious problem with an anxiety disorder.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 40 million adult Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder treatment starts with therapy programs to manage symptoms and causes. These treatments are overseen by behavioral therapy professionals to ensure they’re safe and effective.

social anxiety disorder treatment

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is an intense fear of scrutiny or judgment by others in social situations. These feelings can cause extreme distress and interfere with everyday life. The disorder makes it challenging to do everyday things like go to school and work, or even talk to someone you don’t know. It affects 7.1% of Americans. That’s around 15 million people. Most begin feeling symptoms of social anxiety around age 13, and it affects men and women equally.

People with social anxiety disorder often feel intense embarrassment and insecurity in any situation where they are the center of attention. Even everyday interactions pose challenges for those with social anxiety. They may have difficulty making eye contact and speaking up in conversations. That can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness if left untreated. This leads to a diminished quality of life for those who don’t get help for anxiety and depression.

What causes social anxiety disorder is not fully understood. Research shows that several factors may play a role. Those risk factors for social anxiety disorder include:

  • Genetics — People with a family history of anxiety or depression may be more likely to develop social anxiety disorder.
  • Environmental factors — Traumatic experiences can contribute to social anxiety.

When Do People Feel Social Anxiety?

Anxiety happens to everyone. It’s natural to feel jitters or nerves on a first date or in a job interview. This doesn’t mean someone has a social anxiety disorder. Those who struggle with social phobias are triggered by situations that seem ordinary, and their symptoms are more extreme. Some may think people with social anxiety lack social skills. In reality, they’re dealing with irrational fears and other anxiety disorder symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s research, some common triggers for those with social anxiety include:

  • Meeting new people
  • Going to parties or events
  • Speaking in public or in front of a group
  • Entering romantic relationships
  • Using public bathrooms
  • Making eye contact

Almost anything can be a trigger for social anxiety as symptoms of the disorder vary by the individual. Periods of high stress or significant life changes can make symptoms of social anxiety worse. Avoiding social interaction during these periods may help in the short term, but getting help is the best way to promote long-term recovery from social anxiety disorder.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety symptoms interfere with everyday life. Dealing with them can be challenging, especially when simple interactions with other people carry the potential to become stressful, embarrassing situations due to this chronic mental health condition.

Common symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:

  • Feelings of intense fear or worry when at social events
  • An inability to relax around others
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Feeling intimidated by other people’s opinions
  • Fear of being judged or humiliated
  • Extreme self-consciousness in public places

People with social anxiety disorder may also experience physical symptoms such as:

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea

Symptoms of social anxiety are similar to the panic attacks experienced by someone with a panic disorder. The difference is that social anxiety sufferers only experience the symptoms during or while thinking about social interaction. Panic attacks, on the other hand, occur at random, unpredictable times.

How Is Social Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

Diagnosing social anxiety disorder is done by a mental health professional. Their diagnosis is based on an in-depth evaluation of your:

  • Symptoms
  • Lifestyle
  • Medical history

During the evaluation, the clinician may ask you questions about your anxiety to help make a diagnosis. Some of those questions about anxiety may include:

  • How long the symptoms have been present
  • If there are any triggers and if they affect your everyday life
  • If anyone else in your family suffers from mental health issues

When diagnosing social anxiety, clinicians use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To reach the diagnosis, the following criteria for social anxiety disorder must be met:

  • Feeling an intense and persistent fear or apprehension of social situations due to the belief that one may be judged, embarrassed, or humiliated
  • Avoiding social situations that could trigger symptoms
  • Intense anxiety that’s disproportionate to the situation
  • No co-occurring mental illness or substance abuse that could cause similar symptoms

It is important to note that social anxiety disorder can co-occur with other mental health conditions like panic disorder. Signs and symptoms can often be similar, making it more challenging to diagnose. A certified mental health counselor will rule these out before making a diagnosis.

The Link Between Social Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction are often linked. Those with an underlying anxiety disorder may turn to substances such as alcohol or drugs to self medicate. Substances become an unhealthy coping mechanism. This scenario can play out with social anxiety when you use drugs or alcohol to reduce feelings of anxiousness in social situations.

Studies have found that around 20% of people diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders also struggle with substance abuse. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among people with anxiety disorders, but it varies by individual.

If you are struggling with both anxiety and addiction, it’s important to receive social anxiety disorder treatment and substance abuse treatment at the same time. This is called dual diagnosis treatment. Addiction can intensify your anxiety symptoms and vice versa. Treating both issues is key to long-term recovery.

Is There Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Various strategies and treatments are available to help manage social anxiety. The goal of social anxiety disorder treatment is to reduce the impact social anxiety has on your life.

Psychotherapy

At a treatment center like Footprints to Recovery, psychotherapy will be part of your social anxiety disorder treatment. You will likely have individual therapy, where you meet one-on-one with a behavioral health provider to discuss your experience with social anxiety. You may also have family therapy and group therapy.

One of the most effective treatment methods for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that works to change your thinking patterns and reactions to situations that trigger social anxiety. It helps you identify and challenge your irrational thought patterns, modify your behaviors in response to those thoughts, and develop coping skills for dealing with anxiety-provoking situations. During CBT sessions, you learn how to:

  • View yourself and other people in a more positive light
  • Manage stress effectively
  • Express yourself more confidently in social situations
  • Gradually overcome fear and anxiety

CBT has been found to be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder, often leading to significant improvements in symptoms.

Medication

Certain medications such as antidepressant selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are sometimes prescribed to reduce social anxiety symptoms. Beta-blockers can help reduce the physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder, and anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines might be prescribed as well.

A consultation with a mental health therapist can offer more information about whether medication is the right course of social anxiety disorder treatment for you.

Anxiety Treatment Options at Footprints to Recovery

Footprints to Recovery offers various levels of care for people looking for help with mental illness and/or addiction. Everyone’s situation is unique, so the treatment options and levels of care at Footprints to Recovery reflect that. Some of the treatment paths available at Footprints include:

  • Medical detox – When social anxiety disorder leads to addiction, medical detox is the first step in the recovery process. It’s important to rid the body of all substances and toxins with help from the medical team at a rehab center like Footprints to Recovery. Our addiction professionals can keep you safe throughout the process.
  • Residential treatment – Those with severe mental illness may benefit from residential rehab. It’s when you live at and attend treatment programs at an inpatient facility while you work to manage your social anxiety. Treatment counselors create unique and personalized treatment plans that offer a chance at getting better.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP) – A PHP allows you to live at home while still undergoing social anxiety disorder treatment at Footprints to Recovery. It focuses on balance and independence in your daily life.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP) – An IOP is another option for flexibility in your mental health treatment. You live at home (or in a sober living house if also in recovery from addiction) and attend treatment a few times per week. The focus is on the transition back into normal life free from mental illness.
  • Outpatient program – Outpatient rehab offers the most flexibility in social anxiety treatment. It involves visiting a rehab center only once or twice per week for treatment sessions. The goal is to use the skills and coping mechanisms you’ve learned to promote healthy living on a day-to-day basis.

If you receive social anxiety disorder treatment with Footprints to Recovery, you’ll have a consultation with a counselor. They will help you outline a recovery plan for mental health that offers a chance at a bright future.

You don’t have to live with the irrational fears and discomfort of social anxiety. At Footprints to Recovery we can build a strategic plan for recovery that offers the chance to overcome social anxiety. Letting fear or anxiety control your life is no way to live. Contact the team at Footprints to Recovery today to learn about our full continuum of care administered by mental healthcare providers. We can also do an insurance verification to give you more information about whether insurance will cover your social anxiety treatment.

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References

  1. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11723629/
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353567
  6. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/co-occurring-disorders/substance-abuse
David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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