The most common mental disorders in Americans center around anxiety. Each year, variations of anxiety affect 40 million Americans, yet less than half of these patients receive treatment.
One of the most common forms of anxiety disorder is social anxiety. For many, attending therapy on a regular basis can aid in handling triggers in the future and relieve daily stressors. Read on for more information.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) affects more than six percent of Americans, which is nearly 15 million people. While many people may feel a slight rise in nerves at the onset of social interaction, for those with SAD, the response is much more serious. People living with social anxiety disorder may experience difficulty in the following situations:
- Speaking in large crowds
- Attending an event in an unfamiliar area
- Going to a new place or event unaccompanied
- Initiating or participating in conversations, especially with strangers
- Maintaining eye contact during a conversation
There is a slew of additional triggers for social anxiety, each of which are unique on a patient-to-patient basis. These occasions spark fear of embarrassment, judgment, and direct attention.
As a result, patients may experience an increased heart rate, lightheadedness, restricted breathing, increased sweating, or stomach irritability. These symptoms are not limited to the moment in which the trigger occurs and often last for an extended period of time.
How can therapy help?
There are various ways to manage SAD symptoms. Many choose to medicate; others seek holistic remedies through meditation or yoga. The most effective long-term treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. While medication is often a quick remedy, it has less long-term effectiveness than regular therapy attendance.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works by identifying the thought processes causing anxiety and forming a plan to alter them. The main concept behind this is the powerful connection between a person’s thoughts and behaviors. Patients typically attend 12 to 16 sessions, once a week, for roughly an hour to an hour and a half.
Each cognitive behavioral therapist will assess the ways in which SAD affects their patients to determine which form of CBT would be the most effective. There are plenty of options when it comes to CBT, including individual sessions, group therapy, at-home practices, and journaling.
Therapists will often introduce roleplay during individual and group therapy. This method allows patients to act out frequent social triggers and alter the scenario. When they face said challenge in the future, they’ll have a history of playing it out in sessions with the proper coping skills to handle it more calmly.
When the therapist feels the patient is ready, they will assign “homework” to implement these coping skills. These assignments might include attending an event in a new space, introducing themselves to new coworkers, or giving a small speech in a public setting.
Another effective form of CBT for social anxiety is known as exposure and response prevention, or ERP. Under the therapist’s supervision, patients are exposed to the triggers that spark social anxiety and taught how to respond in a healthy, relaxed manner. While it may seem like something that can be done without the aid of a therapist, repeated exposure to triggers can cause further damage when improperly monitored.
Professionals encourage their patients to confront their triggers and refuse to engage in them. This eventual lessening of anxiety as a result of continuous exposure and subsequent lack of response is known as habituation.
While each individual case is unique, there are a vast array of therapy techniques for those dealing with social anxiety. While medication and holistic remedies should not be overlooked, therapy is often the best choice for those seeking long-term results.
Learning to track down the source of triggers and practicing ways in which to disengage is the greatest benefit of weekly therapy, and can result in lasting relief from social anxiety.