Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder

While most people will feel a little nervous leading up to certain social situations, a person with social anxiety disorder will feel overwhelmingly anxious before, during, and after the social event. It can be debilitating for some and may affect their work, relationships, and general day-to-day activities.

Social anxiety disorder, like many anxiety disorders, often runs in families. A person’s personality traits may also increase their risk of becoming socially anxious. These traits can include placing a lot of emphasis on one’s public image, having low self-esteem, prevalent feelings of shame, and thinking biases. Children who are more timid and reserved have a higher tendency to develop the disorder as they grow into adolescence.

Social anxiety can be brought on by a person’s environment. Early life events, such as an embarrassment at school or having socially anxious parents and mirroring their behaviours are likely to contribute. Big changes to a person’s environment, such as starting a new job or moving to a new city, can also bring on symptoms of social anxiety disorder.

The symptoms include a general fear of social situations, often due to a fear of embarrassment or being judged, as well as worrying that others will notice these fears. It may mean that sufferers will avoid eye contact, be very sensitive to criticism, and feel uncomfortable doing normal activities while others are watching. People will often exhibit physical symptoms of blushing, sweating, dizziness, brain fogginess, and a faster heart rate. In more serious cases, people may even have panic attacks.

The main thing people with anxiety disorders struggle with, is that they feel in conflict with what their brain is telling them. To treat social anxiety, a distinction needs to be made between a person’s subjective understanding, and the reality of the world around them.

How to Treat Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety can be manageable for some people, but when it severely affects a person’s life, they may need to seek treatment.

The two main treatments we offer for social anxiety are:

Psychoanalytic Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

Psychoanalytic therapy is an effective treatment as it looks to identify the exact source of a person’s social anxiety. One of the sources of social anxiety may be an unresolved internal conflict. This could be the desire for acceptance and the fear of being rejected, or the desire for success and the fear of failure. The role of the psychoanalyst is to help you identify what this conflict may be. They will then support you as you work to resolve it, ultimately curing the social anxiety. However, the original causes of anxiety are unique to every person.

Find out more about psychoanalysis for treating social anxiety disorder on our psychoanalytic therapy page.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to identify the negative thoughts that are automatically prompted by social situations and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts. Through this process, a person will develop coping mechanisms for social situations.

Ultimately this should prime a person for exposure to anxiety-provoking situations. The theory is that by gradually increasing exposure to those situations, a person will overcome their anxiety. For example, if a person struggles to maintain eye contact while talking with colleagues, exposure would start by trying to maintain eye contact for a few seconds before looking away. The next step would be to increase this to more than a few seconds before looking away, and so on.

This differs from psychoanalytic therapy in that the original cause of social anxiety may not be uncovered, but if a person is able to control their anxiety, then the CBT treatment has been a success.

Find out more about CBT for treating social anxiety disorder by visiting our cognitive behavioural therapy page.