Note: I use the terms “social anxiety” and “social phobia” interchangeably throughout this article, as they have the same meaning.
What many people don’t understand is that shyness, and even some social anxiety, are often quite normal for people.
Normal social anxiety and shyness can easily overcome by doing something over and over again until confidence is built to a level that you are socially comfortable and expressive.
Again, most everyone has some level of social anxiety in certain social situations, except for the rare few.
However, when social anxiety is taken to the level of condition or disorder, where it dominates your life – it becomes much harder to overcome it without help.
It may be possible to do something over and over via exposure therapy, but it’s far more likely that it WILL NOT cure the phobia with exposure alone.
This is due to the nature of anxiety disorders, where “pushing” or “forcing” doesn’t help in the long-term, even though short-term it can work (but not always.)
So if you’re reading this post, it is more likely that you have some form of social anxiety disorder, not just normal social anxiety/shyness.
Yes I did use the word “disorder” above, even though I’m not a fan of using it. I don’t think you are not a “freak” or a “weirdo” because you have this condition.
And you certainly are not the disorder itself. Think of it as a sort of long-term mental flu or cold that you can get rid of – with the right social phobia treatment & therapy.
So how do I know if I have Social Anxiety (aka Social Phobia)?
There are a few primary methods you can use to determine this:
1) Taking a social anxiety test like the “Leibowitz test” for anxiety to see what range you fall under terms of social anxiety, and if you have it at all.
2) Reading over the examples at this URL – http://www.socialanxietyinstitute.org/examples.html – of what it feels like to be someone with social anxiety. If you identify with them like I did, this can be a strong indicator.
3) Getting an evaluation from a therapist, preferably one who is well-versed in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or a related type of therapy, and also has experience in offering social phobia treatment to patients.
I also offer coaching as an option, being a former sufferer myself and a professionally trained coach.
Seeking Help – The Most Difficult Step
One of the most difficult steps in seeking help for social phobia is the first one – asking for help. Many people with social anxiety believe that it is “wired in” or genetic, and this is simply NOT TRUE.
The majority of the evidence shows that social anxiety is a learned set of beliefs and behaviors combined with a pre-disposition for anxiety in general.
IT CAN BE OVERCOME with consistent therapy and possibly medication (though I don’t recommend meds in general).
Two Main Options for Social Phobia Treatment
1) Evidence-Based Therapies
In my opinion as someone who has suffered from social anxiety for many years, and used traditional CBT to overcome the majority of it, CBT is a very powerful option for learning how to handle and to eventually overcome your social phobia.
There are actually many variations that have stemmed from traditional CBT, which I now believe to be more powerful.
I now lean very heavily towards therapies like ACT and MBCT now, because they are based on mindfulness at their root.
Having a strong mindfulness approach is one of the most powerful things one can learn in defeating not only social anxiety, but also general suffering, anxiety and depression in one’s life.
With mindfulness based approaches, you can truly discover how to get control over your thoughts, emotions and your life.
These types of therapy work so well because it helps you acknowledge and shift the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors & feelings that are at the root of social phobia.
Part of what you’ll begin to learn is that deep down, you basically think in some way that social situations are dangerous, though they aren’t.
You’ll learn about the power of self-acceptance and why this is at the root of social anxiety (and actually several anxiety or depression disorders)
2) Medications / Drug Therapy
Though I don’t personally recommend it, I’m putting this information here for people who feel the need to try medication, that is purely your choice and I don’t judge you for it.
I’m here to help and inform.
There are two primary types of medication used to treat social anxiety. The first class is “benzodiapenes”.
Drugs like Klonipin or Xanax fall into this class, and have some effectiveness towards suppressing anxiety temporarily, but they don’t alter brain chemistry / thought patterns in any significant way.
They are also highly addictive, so be forewarned.
The second class of medications is known as “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” or SSRIs. These medications are not addictive like benzodiapenes and attempt to change the brain chemistry.
So if you are considering medication, this is the class that you would want to look at. They include drugs like Paxil and Zoloft, and if you are interested, you should seek out a psychiatrist to be evaluated for this.
The only types of substances I would recommend at this time are herbal supplements like L-Theanine and Ashwaganda Root.
And these are for helping with anxiety in general, which is part of social anxiety, but of course they can’t teach you new perspectives and lines of thinking like therapy or coaching can.
For Those that Want to Use Medication & Why I Think It Should Not Be Used Exclusively
Overall, I really don’t recommend medications, because they are not as effective in the long-term or as durable as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
This has been shown in case studies of CBT vs. medications. If you want to use medication because you feel your social anxiety is unbearable, then please consider using them along with CBT.
Important Things to Know About Overcoming Social Anxiety
Automatic Negative Thinking: One of the first things you’ll learn is how to become aware of your automatic negative thoughts that are at the root of social phobia disorder.
It all starts with awareness, because if you aren’t aware, you can’t identify the problem in the first place in order to work on dissolving it.
Thought Stoppage or Defusion: Next, you might learn how to actually stop these negative thoughts, or the even more powerful approach of learning to defuse from them.
These are very powerful technique and should definitely be learned. Another variant of this is “ignoring the ANTs voice” where you let the voice rattle on but dial it down in the background, this is also very effective though takes more awareness and experience.
Rational Vs. Irrational Thoughts & Feelings: As you go, you’ll learn that the majority of the thoughts you have are irrational – meaning they create fears around situations that aren’t really there.
This irrational thoughts lead to irrational fears. Reframing thoughts into something more rational will allow you to begin to see that there really is nothing to be afraid of in social situations.
This may sound far-fetched to you now, but that’s because you live in a world of socially anxious thoughts, feelings and fears.
You’ll learn to dissolve these, and even replace them with thoughts that will allow you to be socially expressive and engaging…AND be yourself still.
Having A Support System: I believe eventually you’ll want to tell someone close to you that you consider safe, that you have social anxiety and are getting help for your condition.
I think it’s an important part of aligning your private and public selves, so there’s eventually no difference, really.
I’m not saying to run out and tell everyone right away, pick and choose carefully – that’s why I say only confide in a “safe person” at first.
Please don’t be one of those people that doesn’t take action to heal themselves.
I know after reading this that you’ll take that first step and seek out help, right?
Staying on Track with Recovery: I can’t stress this enough. Staying consistent with your recovery is essential for overcoming social phobia/anxiety.
OK – I can stress this enough and I’ll say it again, DO THE WORK EVERYDAY – AND IT WILL WORK LIKE MAGIC.
It will change your life, at the very least you’ll make substantial progress and at the most it will feel almost like you’re living in a dream world, you never thought possible.
I don’t believe in magic pills or bullets, but if there was one, an evidence-based therapy programs would be it. Stay consistent and keep going, do not give up!
That concludes my guide for overcoming social anxiety, social phobia and shyness. Best of luck, I know you can do it.
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NOTE: I am not a physician so the information in this post, especially on medication, is not intended as professional advice.