Tips for Coping with Social Phobia
The first key for how to deal with social phobia is knowing that you are not alone. Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is a recognized mental illness that affects between 3 and 13% of the population. If you suffer from social phobia, you have extreme and persistent fears of social and performance situations in which other people might be judging or evaluating you.
You Are Not Alone
Although it may seem sometimes like you are the only person who is afraid to give a speech or the only one whose hands are shaking during and interview, the truth is that many others feel the same way that you do. In order to get better, you need to acknowledge your feelings and then work towards overcoming them. Although you know that your fears are an overreaction to the situation, you feel helpless to control them.
Types of Feared Situations
People with social phobia generally are afraid of formal situations such as performing in front of an audience, informal interactions such as asking for dates, everyday situations like eating in front of others, and difficult situations where you need to be assertive.
People with social phobia typically fear four types of situations: 1) formal interactions such as public speaking; 2) informal interactions such as talking in a small group; 3) difficult interactions such as returning an item to a store; and 4) everyday activities done in front of others such as eating, drinking, and writing.
When people with social phobia are in these types of situations they experience a variety of symptoms such as negative thoughts, physical anxiety symptoms such as blushing and sweating, behavioral symptoms such as trying to escape the situation, and emotional reactions such as hopelessness and depression.
A diagnosis of social anxiety disorder can only be done by a trained mental health professional. There are a number of specific criteria that must be met in order for you to be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. These criteria are outlined in a manual used by mental health professionals called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
The criteria for a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder are: 1) that you have significant and persistent fear or avoidance of social or performance situations in which evaluation, judgment, or scrutiny are likely; 2) when you are in those situations you almost invariably experience physical symptoms of anxiety; 3) you realize that your fears are exaggerated; and 4) you avoid those situations or experience them with intense anxiety.
Often people who live with social phobia do not realize that it is treatable illness. Many people go years without seeking help and others may live their whole lives in fear. If you have been diagnosed with social phobia, there are a variety of ways that you can deal with the problem.
Your doctor or mental health professional should have recommended a treatment program to deal with your illness. Some of the most effective treatments for how to deal with social phobia include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Combined together, these two methods of treatment have been shown by research to be the most effective means of combating social phobia. If you have been diagnosed with social phobia, your doctor or mental health professional should be starting you with one or both of these treatments.
Another alternative is cognitive-behavioral group therapy (CBGT), a variation of traditional CBT in which you meet with others that have social phobia, and together you work on the anxiety that you feel.
If you are currently receiving formal treatment, or have already completed therapy or finished medication, there are also a number of ways that you can cope with social phobia on your own. Although self-help methods of dealing with social phobia are not a substitute for formal treatment, they can be helpful for you during or after treatment to increase the likelihood that you will be able to cope with anxiety.
Often people with anxiety disorders will use deep breathing methods as a means of coping. Practicing deep breathing helps to regulate heart rate and keep muscles in the body relaxed. In addition to deep breathing, some people with social phobia find that watching consumption of caffeine in their diet and getting regular exercise help to keep anxiety in check.
Look into taking a social skills training course to boost your social power. There are also a variety of social phobia self-help books on the market, such as “Diagonally parked in a parallel universe” by Signe Dayhoff and “Painfully Shy” by Barbara Markway. A good book will give you information about why you feel the way that you do, and give you concrete strategies to help beat social phobia.
There are many natural herbal supplements on the market that have been used in the treatment of social phobia. Some of these include valerian root, kava kava, rhodiola rosea, and St. John’s Wort. Although these herbal supplements are available without a prescription, it is important to discuss with your doctor the use of any sort of supplement. Many natural supplements have side effects just like regular medication, and many should not be taken by certain people, such as pregnant women or nursing mothers.
Public Speaking Phobia
If you are living with a specific social phobia such as public speaking, it may be helpful to develop the particular skills required to excel in that area. Toastmasters is group that meets to help individuals develop their public speaking skills. In combination with traditional treatment, attending meetings such as Toastmasters would give you the additional skills needed to feel more confident about speaking in public.
Famous People with Social Phobia
If you are suffering with social anxiety disorder you are in the company of some famous people as well. Performers Donny Osmond and Barbra Streisand have both been public about their debilitating stage fright that threatened both of their careers as one time. In addition, several professional athletes have received treatment for social anxiety disorder including NFL player Ricky Williams and MLB players Zack Greinke, Dontrelle Willis, and Khalil Greene.
How to Deal With Social Phobia
If you are dealing with social phobia, know as well that you don’t have to go the battle alone. There are others who are going through the same anxiety problems that you are. If you want to connect with these people there are various places online that you can talk about social phobia. Visit social phobia forums such as socialanxietysupport.com to talk with others who have the same problem. Remember, it is possible to overcome social phobia and live a fuller life.
If you are trying to learn how to deal with social phobia, you know that it is a daily battle against negative thoughts, physical anxiety, and avoidance. Only with proper treatment will you get better. However, by developing your own coping strategies you will stand a better chance of successfully completing treatment and maintaining your improvements for years to come. Be proud of what you accomplish and keep moving forward. Although your victories may seem small compared to those of others, celebrate those small victories. Over time they will combine to create a confident new you.