Anxiety is a word that can indicate anything from fleeting and temporary worrying thoughts and behaviors all the way up to a full-blown psychiatric diagnosis that interferes with our ability to function. Panic attacks fall within that spectrum and there are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms.
However, one diagnosis that can be slightly ambiguous is social anxiety. Some people use it to describe having temporary anxious thoughts and behaviors around social situations, but it is also a serious anxiety disorder that can be emotionally and physically debilitating. So what is social anxiety?
Defining Social Anxiety
Most people have some level of anxiety in social situations. Having a fear of meeting new people or embarrassing ourselves is pretty common. Because of this, ahead of a new social situation like the first day at a new job or a party, we often feel some anxiety. We may have a fluttery feeling in our stomach or not be able to eat or even lose some sleep the night before anticipating what could happen. This anxiety is normal and does not interfere with normal function.
Social anxiety disorder is a serious psychiatric disorder in which the symptoms can very much interfere with normal function. Those with this disorder have an unfounded fear of being judged by others that affects their ability to interact in everyday situations like using the telephone, new situations at work, making small talk, eating in public, or meeting new people. The fear is so extreme that it can cause panic attacks or prevent them from leaving the house.
The debilitating nature of social anxiety disorder is often overlooked, downplayed, or ignored, leaving the person to feel shame and isolation on top of other symptoms. Social anxiety can be genetic, but it is believed that it is also sometimes related to an inability to properly read social cues or an underdeveloped set of social skills. Whatever the cause, it can prevent people from reaching their full potential in life because the symptoms can be so limiting.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Some of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder are mental. They include a fear of being with other people, especially new people, and having difficulties talking to new people. Additionally, it is common to be self-conscious, to have their mind go completely blank, and to be afraid of being judged or not liked by other people.
However, there are also physical symptoms, including blushing excessively, sweating, experiencing pain in the limbs, trembling, excessive nausea or the inability to eat, repetitive movements such as nervous tapping or chewing on the inside of the cheek, having a rapid heart rate, making little to no eye contact, speaking very softly, or having a particularly rigid posture. When any combination of these symptoms happen simultaneously, it is easy to see how this level of anxiety can interfere so severely with the quality of life.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
There are medications available to treat social anxiety disorder; however, many of them have side effects, including being very addictive. Therapy is actually the preferred treatment, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.) This type of therapy involves learning new ways to think, behave, and react in situations, particularly those which cause anxiety.
Social skills can also be modelled and practiced, and this therapy can be administered one-on-one or in a group and be very helpful for managing anxiety. Even though the anxiety has physiological origins and physical symptoms, it is a disorder that can be very effectively treated with therapeutic methods.
Self-Medicating Our Anxiety
One of the common ways that people deal with social anxiety is to self-medicate. Because alcohol can have the side effects of being both calming and removing inhibitions, many people with social anxiety disorder start drinking ahead of social situations to try to help them get through. The alcohol use increases and their anxiety does not get any better, and soon, there is a substance use problem on top of the anxiety disorder.
Without knowing how to properly treat anxiety, we do what we can to try to help ourselves, only to find that we have actually made things worse. It can be worse than having two disorders simultaneously, or co-occurring disorders. Substance use can actually cause or increase anxiety in and of itself, meaning that our anxiety is worse than before and we have to deal with our substance use as well.
Finding Comprehensive Healing
If we have social anxiety disorder, we can seek a diagnosis with a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who can help determine the best treatment for us. If we have a substance use disorder on top of the anxiety, we can also find treatment for that at a residential treatment facility. By addressing the mental, emotional, and physical sources of our anxiety and possible substance use, we can find comprehensive healing.
When we treat our anxiety, we free ourselves to face social situations without fear. When we treat our substance use, we free ourselves from addiction. When we treat them both together, we allow ourselves to be free.
What is social anxiety? It is a debilitating disorder that can impact us mentally, emotionally, and physically, and perhaps even cause us to self-medicate with substances. Rancho Milagro Recovery can help us to find the best treatment for both. Please call us at (951) 526-4582 so we can help you find your own comprehensive healing and free yourself from anxiety and substances.