Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a common mental health issue affecting 15 million American adults.

As a psychologist, I’ve seen how social anxiety greatly impacts people’s lives.

The fear of judgment leads sufferers to avoid social situations and interactions.

This only worsens the problem, as isolation breeds more anxiety.

The good news is social anxiety is highly treatable through techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.

People with social anxiety can improve symptoms, change negative thoughts, and live fulfilling lives through proper treatment.

In this guide, I explain social anxiety disorder, its symptoms, causes, and effective treatments based on research.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of social situations and interactions. Sufferers are terrified they’ll act awkwardly while others watch and judge them negatively.

This overwhelming anxiety drives them to avoid social events and speaking in front of groups.

People with social anxiety often experience physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, trembling, and nausea when in social situations. Even everyday activities like eating, drinking, writing, or presenting in front of others provoke extreme anxiety.

People with social anxiety convince themselves they are closely watched and critically evaluated.

Many people experience some shyness or nerves when meeting new people or speaking publicly. But social anxiety sufferers have excessive fear persisting over six months that disrupts their lives significantly. Their anxiety exceeds normal reticence.

Social anxiety disorder typically starts in the early to mid-teens and is more common in women than men. Without treatment, it tends to last lifelong rather than naturally improving.

The disorder affects people from all walks of life.

But experiencing trauma, bullying, moving, or changing schools often precedes onset.

Common Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder experience emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms. Some common ones include:

  • Intense fear and anxiety around social situations like parties, meetings, and public speaking
  • Extreme fear of embarrassment, rejection, or judgment in social interactions
  • Avoids speaking unless absolutely necessary
  • Avoids eye contact and appears shy
  • Worries for days or weeks before an upcoming event
  • Blushes, sweats, trembles, or feels nauseated around others
  • Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness in social situations
  • Extreme self-consciousness and fear of showing anxiety signs
  • Worrying people notice every flaw, mistake or imperfection
  • Fearing people will judge them as stupid, awkward or boring
  • Severe anxiety impairs focus and absorbing information
  • After events, analyzes every mistake, flaw and imperfection
  • Avoids activities involving social interaction
  • Some use drugs or alcohol to manage anxiety

As you can see, social anxiety disorder exceeds normal shyness, apprehension, or occasional nervousness. This is constant, intense wariness about social interactions that hugely impacts daily life.

Sufferers know their anxiety is excessive but struggle to control it without help and techniques.

Social anxiety is not a personality trait that can be changed by willpower alone. Social anxiety is a disorder rooted in biological and psychological factors.

Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder arises from genetic, biological, emotional, and environmental factors. Research indicates:

  • Genetics – It tends to run in families, pointing to genetic differences. Gene variations regulating brain chemicals like dopamine and chemical link to risk.
  • Brain structure and function – People with social anxiety tend to have a hyperactive amygdala and differences in brain chemical release.
  • Trauma, bullying, loss, and family problems often precede onset.
  • Those with social anxiety have intense thinking patterns about scrutiny.
  • Lack of social exposure contributes to poorer skills, more anxiety and avoidance.
  • Sufferers often have distorted, critical self-views fueling anxiety about others’ perceptions.
  • Avoiding feared situations brings short-term relief, so avoidance is learned and reinforced over time.
socIal anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment

Experts recommend Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the best psychological treatment for social anxiety. CBT helps patients identify, challenge, and overcome unhelpful thoughts and behaviors sustaining anxiety.

Effective CBT techniques include:

Exposure Therapy

This gradually exposes patients to feared social situations in a controlled, therapeutic setting. “Exposure training” teaches feared consequences won’t happen. With enough practice, anxiety naturally decreases.

Cognitive Restructuring

The therapist helps patients identify negative automatic thoughts fueling anxiety like “everyone will think I’m stupid.” Together they challenge those thoughts and replace them with realistic, helpful alternatives.

Social Skills Training

Many social anxiety sufferers have skill gaps from avoidance. The therapist uses instruction, modeling and role play to teach effective social skills.

Relaxation Techniques

These techniques help control anxiety when entering challenging situations. Examples are deep breathing, mindfulness and muscle relaxation.

CBT uses a tailored, multi-pronged approach based on the patient’s unique symptoms. Improvement usually occurs within 12-16 weeks, although session number varies. CBT provides lifelong tools to prevent future flare-ups.


Doctors may prescribe medications like SSRIs with CBT to further reduce symptoms.

While options like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil can help, medication alone is usually less effective than combined treatment. Many patients also dislike side effects and prefer to avoid medication if possible.

Group Therapy

This exposes patients to social interactions in a therapeutic setting. Group CBT helps retrain unhelpful thoughts and build skills. It can augment individual CBT.

Support Groups

Joining a group provides community, social practice, and motivation to confront fears. Professionals lead these groups using set formats.

Lifestyle Improvements

More exercise, better sleep and diet, stress management, and less alcohol can also help treatment. Some supplements may assist too.

With proper tailored treatment, around 75% of patients achieve significant symptom relief. They can live life fully and enjoy social interactions without disabling fear and worry.

The first step is acknowledging the problem rather than hiding it. Help is available.

Get rid of social anxiety and live fully with compassionate, evidence-based techniques.

Call (561) 376-9699 / (305) 981-6434 or visit the contact page to make an appointment with Dr. Benejam and Conquer social anxiety once and for all.