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Social anxiety disorders are quickly becoming one of the most prevalent types of psychological issues in North America.  Research has shown that upwards of 20% of people may be experiencing some form of anxiety disorder.  People who suffer social anxiety tend to feel nervous or uncomfortable in social situations and are overly concerned that they will do something to embarrass themselves.  Even though these disorders are becoming increasingly common, many people are reluctant to seek help for fear of stigmatization. Because of this, many patients fail to receive adequate treatment for their disorder by an anxiety therapist. FamilyTime Centers is an anxiety treatment center in Los Angeles that can help you or a loved one who is experiencing symptoms of social anxiety.  

 

What’s it like to have social anxiety?

 

When a person suffers from social anxiety, everyday tasks that most people accomplish with ease can become enormously stressful.  Buying groceries from the store or even picking up the phone are avoided because they cause social interactions which give the individual symptoms of anxiety.  

 

A person with social anxiety feels a daily fear that they will say something wrong or be rejected by others.  They are often anxious to enter conversations and worry that they will have nothing to talk about.  Many people fail to understand the depth and pain caused by social anxiety disorder.  Most people who suffer from the disorder will go to great lengths to hide it from family or loved ones, as they fear outright rejection if their anxiety is discovered.  This is almost never the case, but it causes people with social anxiety to hide their symptoms and avoid seeking treatment.

 

When out in public places, such as the workplace or a shopping mall, people with social anxiety often can’t relax because they feel like everyone is staring at them.  They constantly feel like they are being judged or evaluated, making it impossible for them to just “take it easy” and enjoy themselves.  Many times, this anxiety makes it much easier for the patient to simply avoid social situations altogether.  

 

People usually want to find a quick fix to their problems, but when it comes to social anxiety, there isn’t a magic bullet that will cure its symptoms overnight.  

 

What is social anxiety?

 

Anxiety is the body’s response to a dangerous or stressful situation and is quite useful as a coping mechanism under normal circumstances.  However, it can develop into an anxiety disorder when it becomes extreme, irrational or prolonged to the point of interfering with a person’s daily activities.  Social anxiety can steal years away from a person’s life if not treated, and inhibit the development of the types of relationships they desire to have.  

 

Social anxiety is a fear of situations that require social interaction with other people.  Much of the anxiety develops from a fear of negative judgement or evaluation by others.  

 

Patients who suffer from social anxiety disorder typically experience distress in some of the following situations:

 

  • Public speaking or presentations
  • Introductions to new people
  • Light teasing or criticism
  • Eating in front of others
  • Becoming the center of attention
  • Performing a job interview
  • Impromptu social activities
  • Using public washrooms
  • Being watched while performing a task
  • Ordering food at a restaurant
  • Social encounters with strangers
  • Speaking with people in authority

 

This is of course not a complete list, and other types of situation can provoke the symptoms of social anxiety. It is important to remember that it's possible for people with social anxiety to feel quite uncomfortable in some situations, while having little to no fear in other types of social situations. The physical symptoms of social anxiety usually include intense fear, blushing, sweating and trembling.  

 

What does social anxiety cause a person to think?

 

  • People with social anxiety typically have negative thoughts about themselves and how other people will react to them. They believe that they will have nothing to say in social situations or that other people will “think they are weird”.  
  • Social anxiety makes a person believe that they are the center of attention in social situations. This creates a type of performance anxiety, because the person believes they are “on stage” during social interactions
  • Social anxiety leads to negatives thoughts such as “I might say something stupid” or “People will notice how anxious I am”
  • Social anxiety can cause self-doubt which makes a person think they are not dressed appropriately for an event

 

People with social anxiety will often appear to others as being withdrawn, shy or unfriendly.  Despite their anxiety they desire to be included in social interactions and activities but are prevented from doing so by the symptoms of their social anxiety.  People with social anxiety often know that their fears are not rational but are still plagued by chronic anxiety.

 

It is important to distinguish between social anxiety and panic disorders as they may appear similar on the surface.  The root cause of fear in panic disorders is the patient’s fear of a panic attack itself, while social anxiety is the worry that others will see a panic attack occurring and the resulting embarrassment that this would cause.  

 

Ultimately, the thought patterns that social anxiety causes can lead a person to a strategy of avoidance.  This should not be surprising, as its only natural for people to avoid situations which they find painful or embarrassing. Over the long term, this avoidance means the person will have few friends and may never establish an intimate relationship. It can also lead a person into coping strategies such as over consuming alcohol to reduce their anxiety.

 

Do you have social anxiety or are you introverted?

 

Social anxiety can cause deeply unsettling thoughts to occur in a person’s mind and which often leads to obsessive worrying.  Introversion should not stop a person from socializing, attending parties or making small talk with coworkers. Introverts just need some time away from socializing to recharge, which is completely different from social anxiety. People with social anxiety can spend hours worrying about the outcome of minor social interactions such as a phone call.  

 

Social anxiety is often a debilitating syndrome which prevents an individual from reaching their goals.  Introverts are happy avoiding the spotlight but are still capable of building meaningful relationships and attaining success in their careers. The fear caused by social anxiety can cause a person to sabotage personal relationships by failing to follow up with others in a reasonable time frame.  

 

What physical symptoms result from having social anxiety?

 

For someone suffering social anxiety, the stressful felt when dealing with new social situations can be incredible.  It is common for a person to have developed emotional coping mechanisms to hide their anxiety when in social situations. But these methods can sometimes be overridden by the bodies physical responses to anxiety.  It is important to talk about the physical symptoms associated with social anxiety, because it will give you a better idea of the type of situations that cause you anxiety.  The primary physical symptoms that result from social anxiety include:

 

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Your mind feeling blank
  • Blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Problems concentrating
  • Increased heart rate or heaving breathing

 

When experiencing an episode of social anxiety, a person will often talk very fast and laugh excessively.  This is because they fear the awkward silences in a conversation and feel like they must find a way to fill the void.  They will often sweat excessively and may clench their jaw as an outlet for some of the physical stress that they are feeling.  Ask yourself if you suffer from these physical symptoms in social interactions; if so it could be a sign that you need treatment for social anxiety.

 

 

How is anxiety different than stress?

 

In simple terms, anxiety is fear than puts you into a state of heightened alertness.  It’s your bodies way of alerting you to potential threats in your environment.  When this process gets carried away it can cause problems as the body never turns off its fight or flight reflex. This results in generalized anxiety that the patient must live with on a day to day basis without any rational cause.  

 

Although social anxiety can seem like stress, the two are quite different.  Anxiety can be caused by stress, but stress is typically a manifestation of external stressors in the environment which make a person sad, worried or angry. Anxiety, on the other hand, is typically an internal response which can make it far more difficult to manage.

 

What happens to your brain when you are feeling social anxiety?

 

If you suffer from social anxiety, you probably know the common symptoms that go along with it. The tense sensation in your stomach combined with an alertness of everything happening around you which causes a deep feeling of dread and anxiety. Multiple parts of the brain are involved in the sensation of anxiety, and brain imaging studies have shown that the amygdala and hippocampus play a dominant role in most anxiety disorders.  

 

The amygdala is a brain structure that is believed to be responsible for communication between different regions of the brain, and alerts the brain to potential threats. An overactive amygdala can therefore, trigger fearful or anxious responses in patients.  The hippocampus is a brain region that plays a role in encoding threatening experiences into memories.  Research shows that this brain region also plays a role in interpreting social situations as threatening or stressful.  

 

The feeling of social anxiety is deeply linked to your body’s fight or flight system.  When triggered, this system fills your body with cortisol which boostyour awareness, reflexes, and speed in stressful or dangerous situations.  Ideally, this survival mode would shut itself down when the threatening situation was over, but this is not the case in people with social anxiety.

 

What causes a person to have social anxiety?

 

Stress is a well-understood phenomenon within the medical community.  But what causes a person to feel anxious, and when does this anxiety build to the point that a person “suffers from anxiety?” There are a few different psychological theories as to the purpose of anxiety.  The neurological theory (described above) competes with the psychoanalytic theory which explains anxiety as a battle between the different parts of the human psyche.  In this view, anxiety is a manifestation of an individual's desire to act on an unacceptable impulse.  In response to this impulse, an individual’s psyche attempts to respond by elevating the body’s stress levels to prevent an undesirable course of action.  

 

Another psychological theory is the theory of cognitive distortions or a pattern of irrational thoughts.  This means that a person has an irrational system of thinking, causing them to view everything as a physical danger.  Under this theory, anxiety is a learned response that results from exposure to frightening or stressful situations.  

 

Sometimes life experiences can cause the development of social anxiety. This can happen if an individual experiences a particularly stressful or humiliating event which causes them to fear social interactions going forward.   For instance, a person may fear public speaking if they recall a past incident where they felt particularly anxious while giving a speech. A new workplace or social environment can also cause anxiety if it places new demands on the individual or they are required to meet many people at the same time.  

 

Regardless of the psychological theory, it is unhealthy for a person to exist in a state of anxiety on a day to day basis.  Whether it’s caused by genetics or being brought up in a stressful environment, the brain

can become hardwired to expect potential threats at any given time which leads to anxiety.

 

A self treatment questionnaire for social anxiety

 

Most people will experience anxiety at some point during their lives. There is a difference between feeling a little bit anxious in social situations, and social anxiety, which can make social interactions too much to handle.

 

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself if you might be suffering social anxiety:

 

  1. Does your anxiety cross your mind at least once a day?
  2. Do the physical symptoms of your anxiety stop you from fully enjoying your life?
  3. Have you experienced an anxiety or panic attack?
  4. Does your social phobia prevent you from doing the type of things you would like?
  1. Do you experience discomfort or anxiety when recalling past social events?
  2. Do social situations or events often result in you feeling a heightened level of anxiety?
  3. Do you try and hide the anxiety you feel from others?
  4. Are you frequently afraid of embarrassing yourself in front of others?
  5. Do you often have trouble falling asleep or giving your body adequate rest because of your anxiety?
  6. Does your anxiety make you feel overwhelmed, trapped or hopeless?

 

If you responded yes to one or more of these questions, then you could benefit from seeking social anxiety treatment at a center in Los Angeles.  

 

Replaying previous social encounters in your mind is a major sign that you could suffer from social anxiety. Do you often replay past social events in your mind over and over and think that you failed to meet the expectations of others? People with social anxiety are certain that others have noticed their anxiety dislike them because of it.  However, the other person didn’t notice anything unusual and hasn’t spent any time preoccupied with it.  Replaying a past social event over and over reinforces your subconscious beliefs of failure and inadequacy which leads to increased feelings of anxiety.

 

Social anxiety is completely different from being introverted. Introverts tend to avoid socialization because it exhausts them out, which is quite different from avoiding social interactions because they cause you to feel fear and dread.  Having said that, there is sometimes a connection between introversion and social anxiety.

 

If you feel physical manifestations of social anxiety in your body, such as sweating, blushing or a racing heart, these are also signs of social anxiety. These are typical fight or flight responses that show you find socializing to be quite upsetting. To cope with these feelings, many socially anxious people create conversational scripts to make themselves feel more comfortable in social situations.  If you find yourself planning out your social interactions in advance, this is another sign you may suffer social anxiety disorder.  

 

 

Social Anxiety is chronic and does not go away on its own

 

Patients who need an anxiety therapist know that their fear does not make rational sense, yet they still feel intense fear in these situations.  Even though they face their fears every day, the symptoms of anxiety persist.  Receiving professional treatment by an anxiety therapist is the only way to alleviate the symptoms of social anxiety in the long term.

 

Thankfully, a type of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be remarkably effective in the treatment of social anxiety.  Research demonstrates that this type of therapy can make a lasting and permanent change in the lives of patients.  Social anxiety can be resolved through a combination of anxiety treatment and perseverance on the part of the patient.  

 

An anxiety therapist will tackle social anxiety from multiple angles, using cognitive techniques and strategies that will allow the patient to literally change the neural pathways in their brain.  The brain is an organ which constantly learns, and irrational fears can be changed by forming new brain associations.  A good anxiety therapist will provide specific strategies for a patient to practice daily so that they can change their irrational thoughts and emotions.  

 

Medication for social anxiety

 

Some people with social anxiety disorder may benefit from taking anti-anxiety medications.  Research has shown that antidepressants may be beneficial for treating this disorder when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Medications appear to be less effective when taken as the sole form of treatment for social anxiety.  

 

Each patient and their symptoms are unique and there is no general rule as to the effectiveness of medication.  Research has demonstrated cognitive-behavioral therapy to be the most effective method of changing brain chemistry for the long term. Consult with your anxiety therapist to determine the best course of treatment for your situation.  

 

Receiving therapy at an anxiety treatment center in Los Angeles

 

The prognosis for social anxiety is remarkably good, and people who undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy experience a high success rate.  Studies have shown that the degree to which a patient follows through with the prescribed therapy is a determining factor in the success of the treatment.  In other words, people who suffer social anxiety will see the best results by following through with the exercises and directions provided to them. This is because the exercises are designed to reinforce rational thinking and recalibrate the mind to perceive threats accurately, which is crucial to eliminating social anxiety for good.  

 

When seeking help for social anxiety, it’s important to find a specialist who understands how to treat this problem effectively.  Ask questions to see if your anxiety therapist understands that you feel self-conscious or that you fear others forming negative opinions about you.  It is important that your anxiety therapist understands that your self-conscious perception of others judging you is very real.  

 

Although there are many different types of anxiety disorders, research has demonstrated that the primary drivers for each of them are similar. People with social anxiety typically become easily overwhelmed by their negative emotions which leads to feelings of inadequacy in social situations.  People usually try and manage these negative emotions by avoiding social situations altogether. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires on the patient and ends up increasing the feelings social anxiety.  

 

 

 

Our anxiety treatment center can teach you healthier ways to cope with your feelings of anxiety.  At FamilyTime Centers, our therapists will help you identify and effectively manage the underlying causes of your anxiety and understand the patterns of thought that contribute to your anxiety symptoms.  You can learn to change these thought patterns, which will reduce your social anxiety over time.

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