Anxiety is a natural human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Anxiety can be helpful when it motivates a person to avoid danger or to work hard at difficult or unpleasant tasks that will ultimately bring rewards. Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. For individuals with anxiety disorders, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, leaving the person unable to enjoy a peaceful and happy lifestyle.
There are a wide variety of anxiety disorders. The type that I treat most often in my psychotherapy practice is social anxiety disorder (social phobia). The National Institute of Mental Health ranks anxiety disorders as the most common mental health problem in the United States.
Symptoms of Anxiety might include:
- Sudden increase in heart rate
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Excessive and uncontrollable thoughts
- Unable to focus on routine tasks
- Head and muscle aches
- Feeling wound up
- Endless “to-do” lists that preoccupy your mind
- Shyness in dating situations
- Fear of speaking up
- Irritability and negative thinking
- Lack of motivation or feeling frozen to complete projects
- Sleep disturbance (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. These fears tend to cause interference in daily routines (e.g., work, school, relationships) and increased avoidance of social situations that are uncomfortable. Social anxiety disorder/social phobia may present itself in social situations (e.g., initiating and maintaining conversations, talking to authority figures, being assertive) or performance situations (e.g., speaking up in meetings or class, using public bathrooms, or going to an exercise class).
Everyone has felt anxious or embarrassed at one time or another. For example, meeting new people or giving a public speech can make anyone nervous. But people with social anxiety disorder worry about these and other things for weeks and even months before they happen. People with social anxiety/social phobia are afraid of doing common things in front of other people. For example, they might be afraid to sign a check in front of a cashier at the grocery store, or they might be afraid to eat or drink in front of other people, or use a public restroom. Most people who have social anxiety know that they shouldn’t be as afraid as they are, but they can’t control their fear. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them. For some people, social phobia is a problem only in certain situations, while others have symptoms in almost any social situation.
People with social anxiety disorder (social phobia) tend to:
- Be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
- Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
- Be very afraid that other people will judge them
- Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
- Stay away from places where there are other people
- Have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
- Blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people.
Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
When it comes to treating anxiety disorders, research shows that psychotherapy or talk therapy is usually the most effective option. That’s because anxiety therapy—unlike anxiety medication—treats more than just the symptoms of the problem. Therapy can help you uncover the underlying causes of your worries and fears; learn how to relax; look at situations in new, less frightening ways; and develop better coping and problem-solving skills. Therapy gives you the tools to overcome anxiety and teaches you how to use them.