How Social Anxiety Disorder Impacts Your Daily Life (5 Long-Term Effective Coping Strategies)

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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a serious mental health condition that profoundly impacts daily life. It leads to an exaggerated fear of negative outcomes in social situations, causing the brain to focus on perceived negative experiences and making you believe others are judging you without evidence. This distortion of self-perception and self-esteem makes it challenging to connect with others and engage with the outside world.

Many people would misunderstand social anxiety as just being shy or nervous. But when you look deeper, people with social anxiety have persistent, intense fear when they are interacting in a social setting.

This intense fear often stems from the anxiety of being judged, criticized, scrutinized, or rejected.

What is social anxiety disorder?

You may have heard of the term “social phobia,” which also refers to social anxiety disorder (SAD). Both terms mean the same thing. 

Phobia describes an intense or unreasonable fear of a specific thing, situation, event, or activity. 

For example, you may know someone with a phobia of spiders or heights. 

Now, notice what they often do when they encounter those things. They scream in freight and would do their best to escape them, right?

The same goes for people with social phobia. They fear social interactions and avoid situations in which they are involved. 

How is shyness different from social

anxiety?

A young businesswoman is walking to work during a busy morning

Shyness and social anxiety are two different things but are often used interchangeably.

When someone portrays shyness, it’s often due to self-consciousness and general discomfort when exposed to unfamiliar situations or interacting with large groups. 

Shy people may feel awkward or have no idea how to act in situations that make them uncomfortable, but this often eases familiarity and exposure over time.

Most of us have this personality, which manifests as feeling uncomfortable in large gatherings or being hesitant to start a conversation with someone. 

You may feel symptoms like nervousness or blushing, but it doesn’t cause intense physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, or panic attacks, like how social anxiety manifests.

When you feel shy, you also tend to avoid certain situations and people, but this doesn’t cause you intense fear or anxiety, which prevents you from attending social gatherings or engaging in activities you enjoy. 

Shyness is manageable and may improve by practicing social skills or exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations. Social anxiety may involve medical intervention and professional help.

What are the causes and risk factors of SAD?

Learning more about the causes and risk factors of social anxiety will help you understand why it affects you or someone you know. This is a good place to start when you want to help yourself improve. 

Experts believe that determining the exact causes of SAD is complicated, as many factors may contribute to its development. 

Below are the following:

1. Genetics

Social anxiety disorder may be genetically inherited.

Medical studies show that there might be a genetic factor that could run in families, causing some family members to inherit the disorder. But, experts still can’t clearly explain why some family members may have it while others don’t. 

2. Brain chemistry

An imbalance of the chemicals in your brain may play a role in causing you social anxiety.

Experts may not explain this clearly, as many parts of your brain are responsible for managing and regulating your mood and emotions.

3. Stressful or traumatic life event

If you grew up in an abusive environment, experienced violence or bullying, or witnessed the death of a loved one, you are at risk of developing SAD.

All other negative experiences like humiliation, rejection, and abandonment would put you at the same risk, too.

4. Parenting styles

A young girl is sitting between her parents during a family therapy session

Gentle parenting was not yet a thing for generations that came before, so growing up with overly protective or controlling parents may contribute to a child having social anxiety.

5. Low self-esteem

Having low self-esteem will most likely put you on negative self-talk and make you easily fall for negative judgment from others, which can heighten social anxiety.

6. Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions like thyroid problems may trigger or worsen your anxiety symptoms and contribute to having social anxiety disorder.

7. Temperament

Your natural predisposition, like growing up as a shy little kid and not being comfortable in social settings, may contribute to developing social anxiety disorder.

8. Major life changes

Starting a new job, transferring schools, or living in a new city may trigger social anxiety symptoms.

9. Alcohol and substance use

Being alcoholic and using drugs can trigger or worsen anxiety symptoms.

What are the common symptoms of social anxiety?

Most anxiety disorders trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, which results in both physical and emotional symptoms. 

8 common physical symptoms of social anxiety

Below are common physical symptoms of social anxiety:

  1. Increased heart rate – Fear and anxiety send signals to your body, causing your heart rate to increase abnormally.
  2. Rapid breathing – You may notice breathing faster and shallower as your body tries to take in more oxygen due to the fight-or-flight response.
  3. Sweating – As your body prepares to fight or flee from the perceived threat, you’ll start sweating on your palms, face, and underarms.
  4. Muscle tension – Anxiety can tense muscles, leading to feelings of tightness, discomfort, or even pain. 
  5. Nausea – Anxiety leads to changes in your blood flow, which can disrupt normal digestion, resulting in nausea, upset stomach, or even diarrhea.
  6. Dizziness or lightheadedness – Can occur due to the rapid increase of your heart rate and shallow breathing.
  7. Shaking or tremors – Anxiety can rapidly activate your nervous system and release stress hormones, resulting in tremors or shaking in your hands, voice, and legs.
  8. Blushing – One of the most common symptoms of SAD, caused by increased blood flow in the face. 

5 common emotional symptoms of social anxiety

Below are common emotional symptoms of social anxiety:

  1. Intense fear and anxiety in social situations – The mere thought of being in a social situation can trigger feelings of dread or nervousness. 
  2. Self-consciousness and awkwardness – You intensely worry about how others perceive your looks, actions, or words, leading to an irrational fear of being judged or scrutinized.
  3. Low self-esteem – You become a victim of your inner voice, causing you to have negative self-talk that makes you question your worth and fuels anxiety in social settings.
  4. Fear of embarrassment – You dread making mistakes or acting foolish, resulting in a constant feeling of self-consciousness and intense shame when faced with perceived judgment.
  5. Panic attacks – In severe cases, social anxiety causes panic attacks, which manifest in physical symptoms like difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and physical discomfort. 

How does social anxiety impact your daily life?

Social anxiety may rob you of the joy of life by disrupting your daily routines, making it almost impossible for you to engage in daily social activities like enjoying the company of people, meeting new friends, or attending school or work.

Below are some ways in which social anxiety can affect you:

1. Low performance at school or work

A young man at work put his head down on the desk, unmotivated and having social anxiety around his work peers

Whether at school or work, both of these settings demand high social interactions. From doing group activities to presenting in class or talking with your boss and co-workers, everything requires social participation, which can be challenging for someone with social anxiety. 

For example, you were assigned to be the team leader to present a project proposal that could potentially get you a promotion, but because of social anxiety, you fear public speaking and being judged or evaluated.

You perceive your boss will criticize and embarrass you in front of the team, so you ditch the meeting. 

Due to your fear of social interactions, you will have limited ability to interact with others, resulting in low productivity and hindering opportunities for academic and professional development. 

2. Difficulty maintaining relationships

One of the hardest things for someone with social anxiety is creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, as they require constant interactions to build connections. 

You may have difficulty making friends because you often think people will judge you negatively, as if you already know them. This can make initiating conversations difficult. 

You also constantly worry about other people’s opinions, which makes you overly self-conscious, leading to misunderstandings and tensions in your relationships.

Dating is probably the hardest for someone with SAD as they’re like on default to decline invitations to go out. 

3. Depression, low self-esteem, and poor well-being

Avoiding social interactions will limit your opportunities to explore the world. It will cost you happiness and freedom from personal growth, life adventures, and career development. 

The loss of connection between people and the outside world draws loneliness and isolation, which can lead to depression.

Your fear of social interaction can cause stress, disrupting your physical and emotional well-being and leading to a poor quality of life. 

How can you treat social anxiety?

Treating social anxiety disorder can be very challenging and requires a lot of patience on your part. Below are a few treatment options that you and your doctor might discuss:

1. Psychotherapy

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – The most common and known first-line treatment for social anxiety. It helps you identify and challenge your negative thoughts and behavior patterns that trigger your anxiety and develop coping skills to manage them.
  • Exposure therapy – This therapy gradually exposes you to social situations to help you learn to manage your fear.

2. Accepting your social anxiety

This is an excellent place to start because it’s true that you are experiencing social anxiety, and accepting it will help you build more self-awareness, which helps you manage your symptoms better.

It can also reduce the weight and pressure off yourself and help you build a more focused approach towards therapy and treatment. 

3. Medications

Your doctor may recommend you take medications along with therapy for optimal results. Available drugs like antidepressants and beta-blockers can help manage your anxiety and reduce physical symptoms when faced with social situations.

4. Alternative treatments

Aside from therapy and medications, there are ways you can manage social anxiety at home. Below are the following:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques – Deep breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation exercises are among the best ways to manage stress and reduce anxiety.
  2. Train your social skills – Look for online classes to learn practical communication and social interaction skills. It can boost your confidence in public speaking and will gradually help you feel comfortable in social situations.
  3. Join support groups – It hits differently when you have people who can truly understand you because they share your experiences too. You may also learn from their own experiences, which could help you.

8 coping techniques to manage social anxiety

Below are techniques you can learn and practice to manage your anxiety in social anxiety-provoking situations:

1. Establish a relaxation routine

  • Practice and incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or mindfulness into your daily routine.
  • Create a calm and comfortable space in your home where you can retreat to relax.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, take slow, deep breaths to help calm your nervous system.

2. Develop assertiveness skills

  • Begin with small, low-risk situations, like asking for a specific item at a restaurant or joining a book club based on your interest. 
  • Practice expressing your thoughts and needs clearly and respectfully.
  • Practice having conversations with a trusted friend or family member to build confidence.

3. Learn to shift your focus

  • To avoid dwelling on self-doubt, practice turning your attention outwards. Show genuine interest in others by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to their responses. 
  • Look for shared interests or experiences you can discuss. 
  • Be sincere and offer compliments to boost other people’s moods and make them feel more positive towards you.

Here are ways to develop long-term coping strategies for social anxiety:

4. Start journaling your daily thoughts and experiences

  • Write about your daily experiences for a few minutes, focusing on situations that trigger your social anxiety and how you respond to them.
  • Reflect on patterns and triggers, and note any progress or setbacks.
  • Use the journal as a safe space to express feelings you might not be comfortable sharing with others.

5. Build your self-esteem and boost your confidence

You can listen to or watch positive self-affirmation podcasts and videos to challenge negative self-talk.

Engaging in activities you enjoy, like joining a book or dance club, can boost your confidence and self-worth. 

Remember to reward yourself for small wins.

6. Learn from challenges

Embrace learning by looking at your mistakes and failures as opportunities for growth.

Reflect on what went wrong and develop strategies to improve next time. 

7. Prioritize self-care

  • Add physical activities you enjoy to your daily routine. Aim to do them for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar intake, as they can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid skipping meals, as low blood sugar levels can increase feelings of anxiety.
  • Get enough sleep.

8. Connect with supportive people

  • Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage and inspire you. 
  • Communicate your needs and boundaries to friends and family.
  • Join support groups or online forums where you can share experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges.

References

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561
  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22709-social-anxiety#symptoms-and-causes
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/social-phobia
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/social-anxiety-disorder-social-phobia
  • https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/living-with-social-anxiety
  • https://lifemd.com/learn/living-with-social-anxiety-disorder-causes-symptoms-and-treatment
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/calmer-you/202007/12-powerful-ways-help-overcome-social-anxiety
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326211
  • https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/socialization-tips-for-people-with-social-anxiety

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Reana Jean Cuevas
Mabuhay! I'm Reana Jean Cuevas. A healthy body means living well with no worries-just happiness and more life adventures. Taking care of my body and well-being is an investment for my career and future. I was a volunteer at the Philippine Red Cross. I joined the training to become a first-aider and be able to provide other health and safety services in my community. I love discussing anything but mainly first-aid, home remedies, and women's health.

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