Seems like a catch-22: You want to make new friends, but you panic when you meet a potential pal. You’d love to have a good conversation, but you worry that people will judge you for your opinions. You’re eager to share your ideas with your colleagues, but you’re so distressed about speaking in front of a group that you blush, sweat, or feel sick to your stomach.
Sound familiar? If these feelings have lasted at least six months and have interfered with school, work, or other daily activities, you may have social anxiety disorder, which is sometimes also called social phobia. It’s a type of anxiety disorder that causes you to avoid interactions with other people because you’re afraid you’ll end up feeling embarrassed or rejected.
Though social anxiety disorder can make you feel alone, it’s actually quite common. About 12 percent of Americans experience it at some point in their lives, according to a survey from Harvard Medical School.
As with any other type of anxiety, you don’t have to grin and bear it—treatment to help manage your symptoms is available. The first step is to talk to a mental health clinician for a diagnosis. After that, treatment typically involves psychotherapy, medication, or both.
Supportive ties with family and friends are also helpful for someone with social anxiety disorder. “Having someone calling regularly and checking in is very important to a person’s well-being,” says Michelle Riba, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Here are a few ideas to get started with treatment, strengthen your existing relationships, and foster new ones.
Get Help for Facing Your Fears
Your clinician may recommend psychotherapy, or talk therapy, as a treatment. A common type of psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder is exposure therapy, according to the American Psychological Association. The goal is to “expose” you to your fear in a safe way so you can learn how to confront it rather than avoid it.
Here’s an example: Your clinician may start by asking you to imagine a social situation that makes you uneasy, such as giving a speech. Together, the two of you might talk about how you’re feeling and ways to manage your anxiety.
As your therapy progresses, your clinician may ask you to address your fear in a real-world setting by actually giving a speech.
Researchers think that safe, repeated exposure over time can help your brain “unlearn” fear associated with certain situations, according to a study in Neuron.
Worried about venturing out for a therapy appointment? Telemedicine appointments are an effective, convenient way to meet with your clinician. And because you’re in a setting of your choosing, you may feel more relaxed than at an office appointment. Learn more about telemedicine for mental health here.
Work with Your Clinician on a Medication Plan
Your clinician may also recommend medication as a treatment. Depending on your situation, your clinician may choose an anti-anxiety medication, an antidepressant, or other medication.
Your clinician will determine which type of medication might be a good fit for you as well as how much you should take based on your medical history, current symptoms, and other factors. One factor that clinicians can take into account: your genes. That’s where pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing comes in.
Genomind® Professional PGx Express™ looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:
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The Genomind test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn more about Genomind here.
Join a Support Group
What better way to realize that you’re not alone than to find others who are also dealing with social anxiety disorder or anxiety in general? A support group can give you honest feedback—and show you that your fears don’t need to control you, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.
Plus, you can learn how others have overcome their anxiety in particular situations and share your own tips.
Ask your clinician for recommendations on support groups, or find one through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Find Connections in Your Natural Environment
Community can be found anywhere—even in your virtual life. Look for opportunities in your current environment to build connections gradually.
Love virtual fitness classes, such as those through Peloton, Pure Barre, or other services? Many offer supportive online communities as well as a chance to work out together in real life. It’s a great way to interact with potential new friends without too much pressure. Plus, you already have a common interest: fitness.
Work can also provide built-in opportunities to connect with others. When appropriate, engage in casual, friendly chitchat. Whether you’re in the break room or a virtual meeting room, a simple exchange can go a long way.
Pursue a New Passion
If your current environment doesn’t offer great built-in opportunities to connect, let your interests guide you to new communities. Love books, film, or music? Want to start crafting or get better at cooking? Check out virtual and in-person events with like-minded people at meetup.com.
Feeling the urge to give back? Pick a cause you care about and commit an hour or two each week to help out, whether it’s caring for pups at an animal shelter or sorting cans at a food pantry. Keep in mind that others are volunteering because they care about the cause too, so you’ll have some common ground. For virtual and in-person ideas, check out volunteermatch.org.
Take Steps to Cope with Anxiety
In addition to following your treatment plan and looking for ways to connect with people, small lifestyle tweaks may help you feel better. Talk to your clinician about which strategies might work for you. Here are a few ideas.
Acknowledge Your Anxiety
Identifying your feelings can help you process and gain some control over them. Notice when you have anxious feelings, rather than ignoring them. Tell yourself, “I’m feeling anxious in this situation.”
Breathe and Move
Though yoga isn’t a treatment for anxiety, it can help relieve stress, promote sleep, and improve overall mental health, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. There are many instructor-led yoga classes available online, such as those through glo.com and dailyburn.com.
If yoga isn’t your style, pick any physical activity that you enjoy. Even a quick walk can lift your mood.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can both irritate your digestive system—which isn’t something you want if you have physical symptoms of anxiety, such as an upset stomach. Also, if you take any medication, ask your clinician about any guidelines for caffeine, alcohol, and any other food or drinks.
Does Your Medication Work for You?
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