The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that social anxiety disorder or social phobia is the third most common mental health disorder in the United States. There are various treatment options available to those struggling with social phobia, most notably cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In honor of National Face Your Fears Day, specialists examined the effectiveness of these different treatment modalities on individuals facing extreme social anxiety.
Social phobia is characterized by anxiety and distorted thinking regarding social situations and relationships. People with social anxiety disorder often misjudge social interactions by assuming others hate them, judge them, criticize them or laugh at them. This can be debilitating, forcing people into isolation in an attempt to avoid any degree of exposure to social situations. Common manifestations of social phobia include fear of public speaking, fear of meeting new people or fear of eating in front of others. The causes of the disorder are unknown, though NIMH notes that it does tend to run in families.
Various forms of psychotherapy and medication can be implemented to treat social phobia. Cognitive behavior treatments, including exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and social skill development training, have been proven to reduce symptoms of social anxiety disorder. A 2013 study conducted by the Clinically Applied Affective Neuroscience program at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology found that CBT can actually change an individual’s brain chemistry to reduce anxiety when placed in triggering social situations. Researchers studied individuals diagnosed with social phobia undergoing 16 sessions of “cognitive reappraisal or restructuring” and found that the treatment increased activity in the part of the brain that regulates emotion. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines can also be prescribed for symptom management.
The 18-year-old Savannah-Alicia Lloyd of Dublin, Ireland, began therapy for her social anxiety disorder in November 2014. Her condition was debilitating and made her feel that she was missing out on life. Before seeking treatment, Lloyd explains, “I’d constantly worry that people were judging me on what I was saying and doing. I’d worry about what I was wearing, I’d worry that if I went to shop I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for my shopping when I got to the [cash register], I’d worry about everything.”
Like Lloyd, those with social phobia often avoid social settings out of an irrational fear of being disliked, judged or embarrassed. If you or a loved one is coping with social anxiety disorder, help is available. Contact the California Mental Health Helpline today to speak with a professional.