Finding Help For Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder and social phobias can become severe, but there are numerous treatment options out there. Doctors and scientists concur that often a combination of therapies may be the best way to find relief. Listed below are a few different methods and treatment options that can help.
Social Anxiety is a complex emotional disorder that affects millions of men and women, and can have long-lasting and devastating effects if gone unchecked and untreated. For many people suffering from social anxiety, everyday social responsibilities and situations can sometimes seem overwhelming, leading to feelings of fear, despair, embarrassment, and stress.
Physicians believe that anxiety and depression related symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance that exists in the brain. Medications are available that can help restore balance to the neurotransmitters in the brain that may be causing the feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. As well, non-medication therapies are available to assist with overcoming social anxiety disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and numerous complementary and alternative therapies.
There’s no magic cure to get rid of discomfort and anxiety in social situations, but there are some steps you can take to put yourself on the road to recovery today. Sticking to one or more of the options listed below can provide you with an excellent chance of treating this disorder and leading a happier, healthier life. Remember, consistency is the key to succes. If you choose to seek therapy, stick with it and you’ll see results.
The term “psychotherapy” implies a wide variety of therapist-patient interaction, overlapping considerably with the behavioral treatments. In recent years, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has received considerable research support and increasing interest. This therapy focuses on helping you understand your anxiety patterns, gradually confronting your fears, and changing unhealthy thought patterns in anxiety provoking situations. You can contact a mental health professional or check out a self-help manual to find more about CBT.
Exposure therapy treatments within CBT emerged in response to the need for more intensive, direct, and effective interventions for crippling anxiety and stress disorders. Successful in treating agoraphobia, panic disorder, social anxiety, simple phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these therapies have also been applied more recently to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exposure therapy is just what it sounds like; placing you in a feared or stress inducing situation, with graduated exposure, until the goal situation can be comfortably faced.
There are numerous types of medications used to reduce the frequency and intensity of anxiety in social situations and help decrease anticipatory anxiety and avoidance behaviors. Research indicates about 70% of social anxiety disorder patients have some measure of success with medication therapy. The amount of improvement with medication varies from person to person, and some patients treated with medication do not benefit. It is currently impossible to predict who will improve on a particular medication unless they have previously benefited from that medication. If you are thinking of medication therapy, discuss options, success rates, risks, and side effects with your doctor.
There are six major categories of medications used to treat social anxiety disorder.
- SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) such as Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac are popular choices for treatment. Clinical evidence suggests SSRIs may be helpful in treating social anxiety disorder. Other than Luvox, other SSRIs are also approved for treating depression.
- SNRI (Serotonin-Nonrepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor) Effexor XR has been approved for the treatment of generalized social anxiety disorder and is the only SNRI currently available. Like the SSRIs, it increases serotonin levels. It also increases nonrepinephrine levels, and is used for treating depression as well.
- BDZs (Benzodiazepines) like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan have the advantage of decreasing anxiety faster than other medications, but the disadvantage of not treating depression. As well, long-term use can cause physical dependency.
- MAOIs (Monamine Oxidase Inhibitors) were until recently the most studied and probably most effective medications for treating social anxiety disorder. However, because of the possibility of dangerous and annoying side effects, these drugs require a special diet low in tyramine. MAOIs are no longer widely prescribed for social anxiety disorder, but are still used for individuals who have not responded to other medications.
- Gabapentin is an antiepilepsy medication, and has been shown to be effective in treatment for social anxiety disorder. Unlike the SSRIs and SNRI medication, Gabapentin is not an antidepressant.
- Beta-blockers are beta-adrenergic receptor blocking agents. They have not been found to be helpful in treating generalized social anxiety disorder, but they do have a role to play in treating performance anxiety. They slow heart rates, reduce tremors and sweating, and thereby indirectly reduce anxiety. The most commonly used beta-blocker is Inderal. Unlike the SSRIs and SNRI medication, beta-blockers are not antidepressants.
Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
CAM use is very popular in the United States and abroad. A recent survey found that over 40% of US consumers used a complimentary therapy over the course of the last year. These include, but are not limited to, herbal supplements, high dose vitamins, amino acids and fish oils, in addition to such therapeutic methods as tai chi, massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, Reiki, light therapy, chiropractic, hypnosis, color therapy, Ayurveda, yoga, etc.
Complementary and alternative medicine generally refers to practices that aren’t integral parts of conventional medicine. Though the two terms are often grouped together, complementary medicine and alternative medicine are not necessarily the same thing. Complementary treatments are often thought of as treatments used along with the conventional therapies your doctor may prescribe, such as using tai chi or massage in addition to prescribed anxiety medication. Alternative approaches are generally thought of as being used instead of conventional methods. For example, this might mean seeing a homeopath or naturopath instead of your regular doctor.
CAM therapy is generally based around a few principles:
- Your body heals itself. CAM practitioners see themselves as facilitators. To them, your body does all the healing work, and you only need treatment to encourage your natural healing processes.
- Prevention is key. Your CAM practitioner may want to see you before you get sick to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep yourself healthy.
- Learning and healing go hand-in-hand. Your CAM practitioner views himself or herself as a teacher and mentor who offers guidance. To them, you’re the one who does all the healing.
While many doctors may not want to discuss CAM therapies, as many as half the doctors in the US refer people to CAM practitioners. Your doctor may be willing to discuss these options with you. If you’re interested in exploring CAM therapies, your doctor can help provide you with information about risks and benefits so that you can make informed decisions regarding your treatment.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Psychological Symptoms: A Guide to Emotional Wellness
Social Anxiety Self Test