Social anxiety disorder is difficult to deal with. It can affect all areas of your life, from your career to your schooling to your relationships. Fortunately, it can be treated. Here’s what you need to know.
Many of us get nervous when it comes to public speaking. We might feel slightly frazzled or shy in social situations. We might even avoid large gatherings or unfamiliar social spaces.
But what does it mean if you have a constant fear of social situations? What if you worry about events for days or weeks before they take place? What if your avoidance of social situations affects your career, schooling, or relationships? What if your anxiety is affecting you on a physical level, causing you to become sweaty or nauseated around others?
If you have experienced these symptoms, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, recent statistics suggest about 12.1 percent of U.S. adults experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. There are a few risk factors that increase your chances of having social anxiety disorder, including being divorced or widowed and experiencing stressful life events. Women and girls are more likely to experience social anxiety disorder.
“Having negative social experiences and growing up in stressful environments are two environmental factors that can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder,” says Amy Serin, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, and founder of The Serin Center. “As with most diagnoses, there is a dynamic interplay between genetics and environment that can determine the eventual development of a disorder.”
Fortunately, Serin notes, social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated. Here’s what you need to know.
What exactly is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder isn’t simply about being shy or introverted, although a socially anxious person may appear that way to others. Social anxiety disorder typically leads people to avoid social situations entirely or to have great difficulty in those situations. In some cases, the anxiety stems from being afraid of how people perceive them.
“Introverts simply recharge their energy during solitude but can have no anxiety when dealing with others. There is a preference for being alone versus being with others,” Serin says. “Shyness may be a less severe form of social anxiety and occurs when a person may clam up or prefer to avoid social interaction in general.”
Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, includes severe stress responses to social situations. “Social anxiety disorder typically presents as marked fear in social situations, above and beyond what one would typically expect given the situation,” says Jana Scrivani, PsyD, a licensed psychologist with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of social anxiety.
Before a psychologist diagnoses someone with the disorder, certain criteria must be met. Psychologists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria to inform their diagnosis.
“In order for a fear of social situations to be considered a disorder, it must interfere in someone’s life,” says Scrivani. In other words, the social anxiety must make it difficult for someone to function to be considered a disorder. “Additionally, the distress needs to persist for at least six months, and not be attributable to something else,” she says. For example, if someone avoids school because of a long-term illness or an unpleasant encounter with a particular teacher or classmate, that’s not attributable to social anxiety.
Anxiety disorders can also be accompanied by a number of physical symptoms including heart palpitations, excessive sweating, shaking, hot and cold flashes, shortness of breath, dizziness, and lightheadedness, and trouble swallowing. These might seem like symptoms of the flu but are often linked to anxiety. Anxiety results in these physical experiences by producing a flight-or-fight stress response in our bodies, which in turn affects our hormonal system and ultimately impacts our physical health.
Can social anxiety disorder be treated?
Social anxiety disorder is difficult to live with, but it can be treated successfully, says Scrivani. “I’ve worked with many people throughout the years who have made significant strides in overcoming social anxiety!” she says. “The first step would be to look for a provider who is experienced with social anxiety disorder.”
Seeing a therapist is often the first step in managing social anxiety. One of the most effective treatments for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), says Lara Fielding, PsyD, EdM, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, and author. CBT is commonly used because numerous studies have shown that it’s an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder. CBT teaches people different ways of thinking, understanding, and reacting to situations.
Another effective form of therapy for social anxiety disorder is acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT. This involves linking the client’s values with the necessity to persist through the anxiety. Their values are used to motivate them to work through their anxiety.
Exposure therapy is usually used in combination with CBT to treat social anxiety disorder. Fielding explains that during CBT, a therapist might encourage their client to create a hierarchy of feared social situations. These situations range from mildly anxiety-inducing to unbearably anxiety-inducing.
The therapist might then guide them to gradually expose themselves to those situations, starting with the least worrisome situation. “The client must stay present to the anxiety until the peak has passed, without engaging in any reassurance-seeking or other safety behaviors, until the anxiety begins to extinguish on its own,” Fielding says. After repeated exposures, the anxiety begins to subside and the client starts to feel more in control.
Fielding also notes that mindfulness-based CBT is incredibly effective for the treatment of social anxiety disorder. With anxiety disorders, you experience primary reactions and secondary reactions. The secondary reactions involve you fearing your anxiety and wanting to avoid that discomfort. “In mindfulness, the aim is to practice letting go of the reactivity in such a way that the primary pain is accepted, so the secondary reactivity does not take hold,” Fielding says.
You’ll take note of your heart pounding, your instinct to run away, and so on. You’ll accept this discomfort and learn that it doesn’t have to dictate your actions. “Mindful awareness of the relationship between the thinking, feelings, and action impulses begins to paradoxically reduce the secondary reactivity,” she says.
There are other forms of therapy for social anxiety, such as psychodynamic therapy. However, Fielding says these forms haven’t been studied thoroughly enough. “This type of therapy has little or no evidence for being effective with serious anxiety disorders,” she explains. “CBT and ACT have multiple randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of science—showing them to be effective.”
Serin reiterates that social anxiety disorder can be treated. “At Serin Center, we have treated hundreds of individuals with social anxiety disorder with a combination of neurofeedback, therapy, and bilateral alternating stimulation,” she says. Neurofeedback involves mapping brain activity and then using that to inform therapy, while TouchPoints are wearables that vibrate on alternating sides of the body, altering the body’s flight-or-fight response. This soothes the wearer when they’re feeling anxious.
Anxious about seeing a therapist? Do some research first to put your mind at ease. Ask for referrals from friends. Consider online therapy options like Talkspace or better help if the idea of a face-to-face conversation is too intimidating. Remind yourself that it’s an investment in your life: You are worth your own effort.
Other Ways to Manage Social Anxiety Disorder
While therapy should be your first port-of-call when it comes to addressing social anxiety disorder, it’s great to have other stress management techniques, too. These coping skills can help you in between sessions or while you’re still looking for a therapist, but they can’t replace a professional healthcare provider altogether.
Here are some techniques to consider.
- Practice deep-breathing exercises to help you manage your anxiety. This skill can help you soothe yourself in seconds, whether you’re at home, in the bathroom at the office, or in a quiet room at a party.
- While alcohol or drugs can seem like great social lubricants, relying on them should be avoided. “Resist the urge to use alcohol or other non-doctor-prescribed drugs to manage social anxiety,” Scrivani suggests. “Those coping mechanisms only serve to mask the anxiety, and instead of realizing that you can face a particular situation, you’ll attribute your ability to cope to the alcohol or drug.”
- While your intuition might tell you to avoid social situations, this avoidance makes it worse. “Avoid the avoidance trap!” Scrivani says. “The longer you avoid an anxiety-provoking situation, the more fear, and anxiety that situation will elicit the next time you’re faced with it.”
- Remember that, in most social situations, people aren’t scrutinizing you. Gently remind yourself that people are usually self-conscious—they’re thinking about themselves, not you, Scrivani says.
- Consider joining support groups for social anxiety. These groups could be online or in-person. Yes, it seems ironic to suggest a meetup to people with social anxiety, but it can sometimes be comforting and healing to speak to those who have the same fear as you while dealing with that fear. Try meetup.com to find a local support group.
- If you’d like to talk to someone, consider calling an anxiety hotline. A trained responder can listen to your concerns and help you manage your anxiety. Here’s a helpful list of international hotlines, including some that are anxiety specific.
- In some cases, medication might be prescribed as a treatment for social anxiety disorder.
While having social anxiety might make you feel hopeless, it can be effectively managed. “It’s important to understand the diagnosis is not a life sentence of anxiety, avoidance, and narrowing down of potential to avoid social interaction,” Serin says. “It’s important to understand that there is hope for people with social anxiety disorder and there are many professionals who can help.”
How to Support a Child Who Has Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can manifest at a young age. Some statistics show that about 9.1 percent of U.S. teenagers ages 13 and 18 have social anxiety disorder.
It’s important that parents are aware of the signs so that they can support their children who might have the disorder. Young children can experience significant struggles to reach out for help, as they might not have the vocabulary to explain how they feel.
The most notable sign of social anxiety disorder is if your child tends to avoid social situations. Another is if they seem particularly uncomfortable or noticeably quiet in social situations. Fielding says that the child might even become angry when they have to engage socially, especially in environments outside their comfort zones.
“The most important and effective thing anyone can do to help a loved one struggling with social anxiety (or any mental health struggle) is start from a position of understanding and validating the difficulty the other person is having,” says Fielding. “Loved ones can often invalidate the person struggling by telling them to just relax or trying to reassure them too often.” In other words, you might want to remind your child that there’s nothing to be worried about—but if you do this too often, it might come off as dismissive and invalidating.
Another thing you shouldn’t do is contribute to your child’s avoidance of social situations, Fielding says. The more someone avoids an anxiety-inducing situation, the scarier the situation can become. While avoiding anxiety-inducing situations seems like a quick fix, it can wind up reinforcing the anxiety.
Instead, Fielding suggests responding compassionately to your child and helping them habituate to social situations—that is, helping them get used to interaction by gradually increasing their exposure. If you’re going to a family event, for example, don’t expect them to socialize for hours right away. Go for only an hour or two. Afterward, point out how they were able to handle it. Use this achievement to praise them rather than to invalidate their initial fears.
If their anxiety seems severe, consider taking them to see a counselor or a psychologist who works specifically with children and adolescents. The counselor can treat your child while giving you helpful pointers for supporting them.
The most important thing to remember about social anxiety disorder is that it’s treatable. It is totally possible to manage the symptoms of social anxiety disorder so that you can live a full life without anxiety interfering. And, while therapy can be a difficult experience, it’s worth it—after all, your mental health is worth the investment.
In Case You Missed It
ICYM: June was huge for the whole TouchPoints™ Family! Need a refresher? We've got you. Keep reading for bloggers, Indiegogo campaigns, gardens, and more!
Lots of blogger coverage!
The team has a saying that goes: "Once you put TouchPoints™ in someone's hands, you'll never get them out!", and we definitely found that to be true this month! Check out some of the amazing bloggers that have featured TouchPoints™!
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If you missed out, don't worry! Because it was so successful, our campaign is now classified as "In Demand", meaning that you can continue to pre-order your TouchPoints™ basic bundles from Indiegogo or pre-order directly from our website!
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TouchPoints™ take over New York!
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The Huffington Post - Attention Moms: 8 Things You Need To Stop Stressing About ASAP
Planning a wedding? Stressful. Writing a thesis for your master’s degree? Very stressful. Being a parent? Crazy, out of this world, off the charts stressful. From helicopter moms to free range moms, breast or bottle moms, Type A moms to hipster moms, parenting styles may not be in sync, but they do have one thing in common. Stress. So what’s causing all of this mom stress?
Here’s an idea. Let’s take two complete strangers (whose only thing in common is that their kids are the same age) make them hang out and endure awkward small talk while they watch their kids play and silently countdown the seconds until it’s acceptable to figure out a reason to leave. Pair that with the fact that you have no clue if the kids are going to be singing Kumbaya or duking it out Hunger Games style. That’s just a recipe for stress. A Stressicpe! Yeah, I went there.
Feeding Your Kids
At a minimum you are responsible for your kids’ three basic needs: food, shelter and clothing. The stress begins the first few hours after you pop out your kid. Will she latch?! Is he getting enough? Then they start experimenting with pureed food that they either love, throw at you or respond with a face that looks like you just gave them a bowl of dog poop. Then bring on the solid “people” food where you spend half the mealtime cutting food into tiny pieces and the other half worrying that your kid will choke on those tiny pieces. Next, comes the wonderful phase when they can totally feed themselves but deem everything “icky.” Followed by the phase where they’ll only eat three things. And there’s that phase when they won’t STOP eating and you can’t keep up. Of course, there will probably be some phase where they decide to be a vegetarian, a pescatarian, a freaking cereal-etarian. Spoiler alert, when it comes to feeding your kids, there will always be a phase. And it will never be fun.
I blame Pinterest for this one. Back in the day, it was simple. A costume and a pumpkin for Halloween. A tree and some red and green decorations for Christmas. Candy and a couple of hidden eggs for Easter. Not overly challenging, holiday prep was no biggie. But now, God help us, it’s like each and EVERY holiday takes two weeks of planning, $452 of craft supplies and a whole lot of magic (aka countless extra tasks for moms). Super elaborate Elf on the Shelf tableaus, amazingly intricate, practically professionally constructed Valentine’s mailboxes, Leprechaun traps for St. Patrick’s day?! Seriously, where does it end?
Remember when you were pregnant and you signed up for every single weekly pregnancy update email you could find? Yeah, me too. Then you have your baby and never unsubscribe and still receive 30 weekly updates with headlines like “7 things your baby MUST be doing by 12 months.” Then you click on the link and then freak out that your child has their own development timeline and isn’t deemed “on track.” Stresssssful. Look, I get it, it is important to make sure your child is hitting certain developmental goals and getting them the proper help if they need it. But, come on, how about a little wiggle room on these mandatory “milestones.”
Bedtime is one of those things that looks so nice in the movies. Wrapping a happy, freshly bathed child in a fluffy towel, snuggling up and reading their favorite fairy tale and finally kissing them on the forehead while they gently drift to sleep with a smile on their face. Sometimes (in movies) the bedtime routine is so truly magical that parents need to tip-toe into their sleeping child’s room just to get one more look. And that’s exactly how bedtime happens...in the universe where money grows on trees, pigs fly and an all-carbs all-the-time diet exists. Here on earth, not so much. In reality, bathtime involves 18 “required” bath toys and soaking wet floors. Story time takes approximately 90 minutes, seven books and a zillion questions. And going into my kid’s room once I FINALLY get them to sleep? I would rather walk on hot coals while juggling and listening to “the song that never ends” on repeat.
Being a “Good” Mom
So here’s a fun topic. I need to take a deep breath, sip some wine and clip on my Buzzies before I even get started on this one. It used to be simple to be considered a good mom. If you loved your kids and took care of their basic needs, you were deemed a good mom. These days it’s not so simple. Soooo much is expected of modern day moms that the qualities that made you a good mom 50 years ago are considered just the bare minimum in our society. Sure you love, feed and bathe your kids, BUT...have you started teaching them French? Did you triple check and make sure that their lunch is all natural, non-GMO, organic, and perfectly well rounded? Have you become a childhood sleep expert to ensure you selected the correct bedtime? Are the toys your kid is playing with appropriate for their blood type and zodiac sign?? The standards that society and we as moms hold ourselves to is INSANE. Some nights I keep myself up with thoughts of motherhood mediocrity whirling through my brain. Enough is enough. Being a “good” mom is easy. Just love your kids with everything you have and there you have it, you’re a good mom.
What’s that word that means a spotlessly clean house that kids live in? Oh yeah, there is no word for it because it’s not something that exists. It’s not like my house is never clean. It is, for about 48 seconds until it begins the descent towards crumb, clutter and chaos again. Here’s the thing, trying to keep your house spic and span when you have little kids is like standing in the middle of a thunderstorm and trying not to get wet. Not happening. Do what you can to make sure your house doesn’t look like it should be on an episode of Hoarders, but realize that until your kids are out of the house, crumbs are inevitable, laundry will be piled up and don’t be surprised if you find tiny plastic toys hidden between your sheets.
Screwing Your Kid Up
Magazines aren’t the only thing that’s got a lot of issues. Parents got ‘em too! Try as you may to avoid it, there will be countless times that you worry that your own issues are going to screw up your kids. You can spend your life stressing that your issues and not so great decisions will have some detrimental lifelong effect on your child. Guess what? They probably will. But you know what else will have a lifelong effect on your kid? All the good things you do, all the positive traits they inherited and the amazing gems of parental wisdom that you will pass along. So just chill, it will all even out.
Stress has pretty much become synonymous with motherhood. There’s really no way around it, but there are ways to cope. Have that glass of wine, do the 90-minute yoga class, grab your Buzzies or even marathon three seasons of that Netflix show you’ve been dying to see. Just try to take a second to breathe and remember, you’re NOT the only one who sometimes wonders if you’re too old to run away.
AZ Family - Valley psychologist creates wearable tech to reduce stress
PEORIA (CRONKITE) – Paradise Valley neuropsychologist Dr. Amy Serin believes she’s found a new way to help people deal with stress and anxiety.
Serin created a small device named Buzzies that you can wear on your wrists or in your pockets. Buzzies send signals to the brain and these signals help change the way information is processed, she said.
She uses something called bilateral alternating stimulation delivered tactile treatment, otherwise known as BLAST.
“This is a technology that has been used in certain types of treatments in the last few decades,” she said. “What I did that was new, was improve some of the technology, the waveform, the delivery method to give access to people outside of doctor’s offices.”
BLAST inhibits stress responses and enhances memory recognition. This treatment is especially helpful for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress and anxiety and sleeping disorders, she said.
“Our ultimate goal with Buzzies is to change group dynamics and create global change,” Serin said. “When people are self-regulating, when people aren’t stressed out, they perform better. They make better decisions. They sleep better. Their overall health is better.”
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illness in the U.S. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 18 percent of the population is affected.
Peoria residents Jennifer Childress and her two daughters Caitlin, 10, and Cora, 8, have been searching for a solution to help ease daily stresses.
“The biggest challenge that both my daughters face is anxiety,” Childress said.
The family has tried treatments such as neurofeedback and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) therapy, but they said Buzzies has made an improvement in their daily life.
“The (other) therapies help, but there’s always the day-to-day crisis moments where you need that help,” Childress said.
Caitlin said Buzzies help her stay on track and provides a calming sensation.
“Most of the time, I’m just kind of worried about everyday homework, what’s going to happen tomorrow, how kids are going to react to something and just kinda worked up over nothing,” Caitlin said.
The product has only been on the market since December, and it does have its skeptics.
On Reddit, a popular message board, one user asked whether anybody had used the device. Other users voiced concerns: “Looking at their website, it looks like a load of snake oil. There are some papers on the site, but they don’t appear to be published by any peer-reviewed journal.”
Melissa DiGianfilippo, a spokeswoman for the company, said they are pursuing peer review, but it takes about two years. She added that the company has collaborated with universities to conduct more research.
The product does appear to have early support. Its Kickstarter campaign started with a goal of $15,000, but it has raised more than $76,000.
Since its debut, Serin has made some improvements. She made them quieter, enabled them to work with Bluetooth technology and designed them so they can be controlled through a phone application.
Serin said she’s also given scholarships to people who can’t afford the device and will continue to do so.
Buzzies cost $239 on its website. More than 2,000 units have been sold.
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