8 Steps to Getting Help When You Live with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental disorder behind depression and alcohol dependence. At the same time, most people don’t understand what social anxiety is or that it’s something that can be helped. Many people never receive a diagnosis and live their whole lives without receiving any form of help.
Considering these facts, I felt it was important to share the best ways for you to get help for social anxiety, whether you are living with severe, moderate, or mild anxiety. Obviously, what type of help you seek will depend on where you are in your mental health journey at the moment. Let’s get started!
The most important takeaway from this article? There are many options for social anxiety and it is a problem with many treatments. There is no reason for you to live with this problem any longer. If you can get past your fear of reaching out for help, there are many options awaiting you.
Note: The advice offered here is for mild to moderate social anxiety. If you are in crisis, please reach out to a crisis line or your local emergency room. In the case of severe anxiety, hospitalization and in-hospital treatment may be an option.
Step 1: Approach Your Family Doctor
If you have a family doctor, the best first thing to do is to ask your doctor for help. Hopefully, you have a doctor
- who listens
- who is up to date on mental health
- who can either provide advice about lifestyle changes or make a referral
Your family doctor can also prescribe medication and may offer talk therapy depending on where you live.
If your doctor does prescribe medication, or you are referred to a psychiatrist who prescribes you something, ask about side effects and why the medication is the best choice for you.
If you feel nervous about talking with your doctor, bring someone along who can do the talking. Or, bring along a written description of what you are experiencing.
The last time I went to my doctor’s office, a helpful friend texted to ask me if I had written down everything that I wanted to ask. Sitting in the office, I pulled out a pen and paper and quickly made a list.
This list helped me to remember everything I wanted to ask. It also helped both my doctor and I to stay focused on my concerns.
Step 2: Tell a Trusted Friend or Family Member
Maybe talking to your doctor as a first step is too scary. In that case, try talking to a helpful and empathetic family member, friend, pastor, teacher, etc… you get the idea.
Ideally, that person will listen and then help you to find help. Tell that person that you aren’t sure of the steps you should take to get help. Or that you need someone to help with the process.
I have a family member who I regularly attend appointments with, not because she isn’t capable, but because it’s just so easy to forget to ask questions. It’s also helpful if there is a decision to make—I can be there to be her sounding board.
(Watch the video below to see The Doctors and behavioral expert Gary Coxe try to help a young girl living with severe social anxiety.)
Step 3: Find Help On Your Own
Let’s say you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor or to a friend or family member. It’s possible that you could search out your own treatment options.
But… many professionals will require a referral from your family doctor. If so, once you find a professional who interests you, make a request for a referral from your doctor at that time.
There are many types of mental health professionals offering treatment for social anxiety. These include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors. What is most important is that you find professionals with specific experience with social anxiety.
You can find these professionals in many ways:
- through the yellow pages
- by using directories of local or national mental health organizations (e.g., the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI)
- by going to university counseling offices (if you are a student)
- by checking for research studies (if you live in the community but are not a student)
These professionals will offer different types of treatment including medication and therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). You should expect to receive an assessment and diagnosis as well as a management strategy.
When I was a student, I took advantage of the university counseling office, and it was as simple as walking in and filling out an intake form. From there, I was assigned to a therapist who could help me with the specific problems I had identified on the form.
Step 4: Find Group Help
Another option for social anxiety is to look for group help situations such as therapy groups (these should be focused only on social anxiety), support groups (both in person and online groups exist),
In Toronto, Canada, not far from where I live, there is a long-running social anxiety support group in which members visit to practice strategies and learn new skills. Be sure to find a group specifically for social anxiety and that doesn’t force you to take part until you are ready.
Step 5: Look Into Disability Benefits and Work Accommodations
If you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder:
- you may be eligible to receive disability benefits if you cannot work
- accommodations at work to help you do your job in spite of your anxiety
You can learn more about benefits and accommodations from organizations such as NAMI or through your mental health provider.
Step 6: Consider Alternative Treatments
Along with any formal treatment for social anxiety, take a long hard look at your lifestyle. Whenever I find myself passing through a stressful period of life, I make sure that I’m keeping up with my exercise and not falling into too many bad eating patterns (like fast food), as it’s just too easy to do.
- Follow a healthy diet and regular exercise
- Avoid caffeine
- Take supplements such as L-theanine, etc.
Step 7: Consider Self-Help Options
As a last step, or even perhaps a first step if your anxiety is mild, is to consider self-help options. This could range from anything like print books to more involved courses (like the one offered by the Social Anxiety Institute).
You could take a public speaking anxiety course like the one offered by Marla Genova, or do a self-paced course at home to work on your anxiety alone. The options truly are endless. I have numerous self-help books on my shelf and consider them a valuable resource. The only thing is—you need to put in the time to actually do the exercises!
Step 8: Consider Online Therapy
Another potential option is to consider online therapy options such as BetterHelp (paid) or 7 Cups of Tea (free support or paid therapy). The advantages of online therapy are that it is flexible in terms of schedule, doesn’t require you to go somewhere for help, and may be easier if your anxiety is preventing you from going to see someone in person.
I’ve used 7 Cups on occasion when there is something I need to vent about but it doesn’t seem appropriate to dump it on a friend or family member. It’s nice to know there is a listening ear available.
What’s Your Next Step?
I’d like you to take a minute now and make a plan of action for how you will get help for your social anxiety.
Which of the above options seems to make the most sense as a starting point for you? Write down your plan in a notebook so that you will be more likely to put it into action.
To summarize, there are plenty of paths you could take: talk to your doctor, tell a friend or family member, search out a mental health professional on your own, find group support, look into disability benefits or work accommodations, consider alternative treatments and self-help options, and finally look into online therapy.