"Why can't I ever just have fun?": How To Identify and Manage Social Anxiety Disorder

We all have experienced the feeling of being nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation, such as walking into a packed room of people at a party where we don't know anyone, clamming up when left to make small talk with the new guy at work, or getting butterflies in our stomach before making a presentation at work or school. Public speaking or walking into a room full of strangers isn't generally the highlight of most people's day, however the average person is able to barrel on and get through it. While it's normal to feel some anxiety in social situations,

for people afflicted with social anxiety disorder (sometimes known as SAD) the stress of these situations can prove unbearable or too much to handle. These feelings go way beyond simple "shyness," though many suffering with the anxiety have to deal with the frustration of constantly having to explain the severity of what they are experiencing.

Signs You May Suffer From SAD

You may suffer from SAD if you exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • You feel anxious being around other people.

  • You spend time after a social interaction replaying the events in your mind, analyzing your "performance" and identifying flaws in what you said or did... "OMG I sounded so stupid!"

  • You have difficulty making eye contact, placing phone calls (text messages are your preferred form of communication), using public restrooms ("pee shy"), or eating in public.

  • You avoid attending parties or other social gatherings.

  • You stay quiet or hide in the background in order to escape being noticed.

  • You worry for days or weeks before a social event.

  • You avoid public places.

  • You have difficulty making or keeping friends.

  • You find yourself blushing, sweating, or trembling around other people.

  • You feel nauseous, confused, tense, or like tearful when in a social setting.

SAD can prevent people from having normal friendships, interactions, or romantic relationships, and can keep sufferers from functioning in daily life, at work, or at school. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to minimize the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder.

Methods for Managing Social Anxiety

  • Therapy: A professional therapist can help someone with social anxiety understand that his/her fears are irrational and overcome them with cognitive behavioral therapy, social training skills, or exposure therapy. A trained mental health professional can help provide the tools for you to move past the limitations you feel due to Social Anxiety and learn to control the physical symptoms, challenge the negative/unhelpful thoughts, and face the social situations you fear.

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Focusing on something as simple as breathing can help a person experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder to regain clarity and feel calm and relaxed. When someone is feeling nervous or panicked, there is often a tendency to take quick, shallow breaths. By bringing awareness to one's breath, the heart rate slows down and the person is more in control. Regularly practicing deep breathing/meditation techniques can help alleviate the effects of Social Anxiety Disorder.

  • Medication: Medication can have a great impact on managing symptoms of social anxiety and is usually used in combination with psychotherapy. Anti-depressants can help reduce anxiety and make someone feel like his/herself again. Those who turn to medication for treatment typically experience generalized anxiety as well. Talk to your doctor to see if medication is right for you.

You are not alone and there is hope!

Social Anxiety Disorder affects over 19 million people across the country. It is the third most common mental health disorder in America, and the most common anxiety disorder over all. Social Anxiety Disorder is very real and con disrupt someone's quality of life. Social Anxiety Disorder can be frustrating and discouraging, as you want to enjoy a healthy social life and "have fun like everyone else," but know that the emotions your are experiencing are very real and not just something you can "get over by not being so shy." There is help available for you from people who understand just how painful and frustrating what you're going through is. You may never become the social butterfly or life of the party, but you can learn to effectively manage your anxiety in order to feel more comfortable, functional, and secure in social settings.