Does Social Anxiety Ever Go Away? Here's How Experts Say You Can Work Through It
Have you ever walked into a crowded room full of strangers and felt hyper aware of your every move? I imagine that’s what social anxiety feels like, only on a much smaller scale. It's the constant paranoia that someone might catch you tripping over your words, that your inability to keep up with a conversation makes you come off as unintelligent; a constant fear that someone, somewhere is judging you, no matter how hard you try to present yourself without a flaw. The thing is, humans are believed to be naturally social beings, so does social anxiety ever go away if it's something you aren't born with, but rather something you can develop overtime?
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, the fear of being judged and/or negatively evaluated by other people has been ranked the third largest mental health care problem in the United States, with 7 percent of the population currently experiencing some form of the psychological disorder. The term "social anxiety" the organization explains, is a generalized disorder that refers to people who feel uncomfortable in social situations, but there are more specific kinds of social anxiety like the fear of public speaking, or eating in front of others.
Being socially anxious has nothing to do with your persona; you can be an extrovert and still be socially anxious. The reason why you might be so concerned with the opinions of others, Australian depression and anxiety resource Beyond Blue explains, could be because as a child you were shy and wanted other's acceptance, social phobia could run in the family, or it could be that you were embarrassed publicly and have never fully recovered from the trauma.
It sounds pretty crummy, I know, but the good news is social anxiety is not something you are born with, therefore it is something you can work through and overcome. Depending on how intense someone's fear of social interaction is, it could take time, and it definitely takes a decent amount of effort, but social anxiety can go away, and here are some of the ways experts suggest working through it.
1. Figure On What, Specifically, Is Making You Feel So Anxious
Problem solving is a process, and the first step to solving a problem is to be able to identify, without a doubt, what the problem actually is. As previously stated, social anxiety could be a general discomfort in social situations, but it can also get more specific than that.
If you are someone who feels nervous eating in front of others, or freezes up when you have to give a public presentation, these are all very specific problems you can tackle. Make a list of what kind of situations bring you the most anxiety, and go from there.
2. Talk To A Therapist
According to The Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety disorders can absolutely be treated, and the best way to go about doing so is to find a therapist you feel comfortable working with. Once you've connected with a specialist, Robert Glatter, MD, Asst Professor of Emergency Medicine, Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health tells Elite Daily that cognitive behavioral therapy is often used for treating social anxiety.
Cognitive behavior therapy entails that either one on one with your specialist, or in what's called an active behavioral therapy group, you will "identify specific situations which may tigger fear and emotional upset," and work through anxiety hierarchies, or a list of situations that trigger anxiety from least to most upsetting.
Dr. Glatter also notes psychodynamic therapy, in which patients are psychoanalyzed to uncover fears the patient might not even be aware of, might also be effective for treating social anxiety as well.
3. Set Realistic Goals For Yourself
Someone who is socially anxious is often so overly concerned about being judged by other people that it consumes them. Even long after a social interaction takes place, Dr. Glatter tells Elite Daily, some people with social anxiety will still be going over details about the event itself. The goal, then, is to redirect your thoughts from what might have went wrong in a social situation, to what went right.
According to Justin Weeks, Ph.D, in order to put an emphasis on the positive aspects of a social interaction, someone who is socially anxious should a) create "objective behavior goals," or behaviors that people can actually pick up on and b) try not to focus on other people's reactions to these behaviors. He told Psych Central,
"It doesn’t matter how your colleagues received your idea in the meeting. What matters is that you actually spoke up. It doesn’t matter whether a girl or guy said yes to your dinner invite. What matters is that you actually asked. You did what you wanted to in a situation. We can’t control what another person is going to do.”
4. Ask Your Friends And Family For Help
Working with a therapist is a huge step toward overcoming social anxiety, but unless you're putting their guidance into practice outside the safe space of their office, social phobias are bound to linger. For additional help, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC suggests asking for the moral support of your friends and family on top of a professional's instruction.
"Your friends and family can also be helpful in the way that they can listen to your concerns and help you not avoid certain activities or situations that you once enjoyed," she tells Elite Daily. The key is to let your friends and family know what they can do to be helpful by clearly expressing what your fears are, and how your therapist wants you to work through them outside your sessions.
5. Face Your Fears
I realize telling someone who's socially anxious to get out there and be social sounds counterintuitive, but once you've acknowledged and accepted your fears, the next step is to take a deep belly breath and face them head-on.
In an article for Psychology Today, Robert L. Leahy (B.A., M.S., Ph.D., Yale University) explained the best way to shake social anxiety in the moment is to first imagine yourself successfully going through the motions. Picture yourself walking into your best friend's apartment and joining in on someone's conversation. If anxiety starts to arise, Dr. Leahy says, then you need to separate imagination from reality. He wrote,
"When you imagine walking into the party and the thought pops up, 'Everyone can see I am anxious,' you can remind yourself that people have a very hard time noticing your internal feelings and that they are focusing on their own concerns (perhaps their own anxiety). Keep imagining and let the anxiety flow out and away."