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Imagine that you’re going in front of a group of people at school, or at work and you feel overwhelmed. All of a sudden it seems like you are getting heavier and a feeling of nervousness overcomes you. You’re worried about what others might think about you. Then you begin to worry that things are going to get worse, and people are noticing what you are doing wrong. It gets so hard to talk in front of individuals that you start to panic and look for ways out of it.
You might try to email your boss or teacher instead of speaking out in front of others. Even if it’s more work to contact people through email, you avoid speaking out in front of them because you are worried that they will judge you. This is what someone with Social Anxiety Disorder might experience. To find out if someone is suffering from this disorder, we need to understand what causes their anxiety.
What’s the root of your anxiety?
Understanding what triggers your anxiety to start or get worse is the first step. When you figure out what drives this fear, you can begin to improve your life. When you self-analyze and gain insights into what causes you anxiety, there is a better chance for successfully managing those feelings. On a simple level, social anxiety is worrying about how others judge you in a social setting. This anxiety can come from a range of events or places.
Then again it might not seem so clear cut. Diagnosis can be tricky because there are many factors to consider. One technique mental health workers use to make sure they record the most accurate diagnosis is what’s called a differential diagnosis. When a professional uses a differential diagnosis, they record different possible diagnosis and why each one was eliminated until fewer possibilities exist. The final diagnosis will cover all the presenting symptoms. This process helps narrow down which type of treatment could be most helpful. Imagine it’s much like your medical doctor trying to decide if you have the flu or a viral infection. Your doctor would go down a list of symptoms to try and decide which is the best medication to prescribe. Let’s explore some of the common differential diagnosis for social anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety is a diagnosis in the DSM 5 under anxiety disorders. Although it’s grouped with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or panic disorder, there are differences between each one. Generalized Anxiety is usually linked to having difficulty concentrating because of over worrying. Someone who is experiencing this sort of stress will excessively worry about ways things can go terribly wrong. GAD shows up as worrying. You would be worried something will take a turn for the worse. This worrying needs to interfere with your life for at least six months. A patient managing GAD symptoms could be worried about almost anything.
Panic disorder has several of the same symptoms of GAD and social anxiety, but very specific things set off the person’s symptoms. This disorder is characterized by a reoccurring panic attack that varies in frequency. But, what are panic attacks? These panic episodes often happen without any signs. You might have one or several a day. Panic attacks are short intensive fearful moments, and you can feel changes in your body. Imagine yourself completely overwhelmed with fear for less than 10 minutes. It can take many weeks or even months to determine what sets off a panic attack. The biggest difference between these two diagnoses is that panic attacks don’t have to do with social settings.
Meeting with a mental health professional may be the most accurate way of finding out if you suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. Until you make the appointment, there are other ways you can learn more about social anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a lot of information that may be helpful. They also have useful information on social anxiety. This organization includes videos describing what social anxiety looks like and what it may feel like to struggle with this disorder.
Dr. Thomas Richard, Psychologist and President of the Social Anxiety Association reports that social anxiety disorder is a growing mental health concern. He mentions that recent reports show that there is a 13 percent chance that someone will experience an episode of social anxiety. He goes on to report a list of triggering symptoms. Some of the typical social anxiety feelings are feeling anxious when:
- You meet new people
- Other criticize you
- During situations when you are the center of attention
- Others watch you do things
- Public speaking
- You need to talk with someone who has power over you
- Feeling like you don’t belong at social gatherings
- Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking)
- Looking at people in the eye
- Doing many other things in public that you feel others will judge you.
You are afraid of what others think of you. Many people experience these feelings over their life time but at less intense levels. Most people can think back and remember when they felt judged and were nervous in front of others. May you can remember when you were nervous talking to your boss or going to a first round interview. Social anxiety is when these feelings get in the way of you living a satisfied life. Instead of brushing off these feelings or calming down after a jolt of anxiety, they continue. These feelings are so intense that you can’t live your life the way you want too. You will likely find yourself spending time trying to plan around social settings that make you nervous. You might avoid speaking with your boss or find someone else to address your concerns.
Social Anxiety Disorder does have a long history of successful treatment. You can find a therapist online or through your insurance company. The professional can make recommendations after a formal diagnosis. Treatment times can range from a few weeks, months or longer and it depends on the person. Your therapist may suggest you try a course of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Per the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices the Coordinated Anxiety Learning and Management (CALM) Tools for Living Program is a helpful tool to manage social anxiety. You can complete this CBT program on the computer for 60-90 minutes over nine sessions. It teaches coping skills to decrease or manage stress. On the other hand, there are also medications that help reduce anxiety. In addition to being effective use both medication and therapy. For younger people from 6 to 18, there is a program called Cool Kids Child and Adolescent Anxiety Management Program for learning skills to manage social anxiety. This treatment is about ten sessions long and is done within a group or during individual therapy.
In closing, social anxiety disorder can be challenging to manage. It can slowly find its way into your life and limit almost all parts of your life. Therefore, people can struggle to control these symptoms because it can feel like they have taken over your world. You are not the only person with these feelings. There is a 13% chance everyone will experience these intense emotions, and some may need more time to help control their emotions. These symptoms are overwhelming and if you feel that this might be happening to you reach out to a professional. A mental health care professional or your primary care physician can help connect you with services to manage these symptoms. It’s your life, and if you want help to control these feelings some people want to help!