Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common mental illness that affects about 8% of the population. If left untreated, it can persist for many years. It affects women more than men and typically starts before age 18. SAD is usually the first mental illness to manifest. Many people with SAD also progress to having panic disorder, depression, substance abuse problems, or bulimia.
For most people, it is normal to feel nervous or anxious before meeting people for the first time or before giving a speech. People with SAD can experience anxiety over a few specific situations or a wide range of social situations. If you have social anxiety disorder, the anxiety you experience is so intense that it affects many aspects of your life, such as work, school, leisure, and relationships. If you have anxiety, you may even avoid certain fields of study or careers, take many days off work, or drop out of school.
Signs to look for
Signs of SAD include:
- Thinking that other people will think that you’re strange or stupid if you say something wrong
- Thinking that other people can tell how anxious you are when you’re in an uncomfortable situation
- Going out of your way to avoid social situations and dreading the situations you can’t avoid
- Fear of giving presentations and participating in meetings or class discussions
- Drinking alcohol or using other substances to feel less anxious before a social event
Physical signs of SAD include:
- Feeling shaky or tense
- Racing heart rate
- Tightness in the chest
- Shallow breathing
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Stomach pain
To find out if you have SAD, take the following online quiz: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/anxiety.htm.
What can you do to overcome SAD?
There are many things you can do to overcome your anxiety that don’t involve taking prescription drugs. These natural approaches are very effective, especially when used in combination.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy can help you work through thoughts and beliefs that make you feel anxious.
- Exposing yourself regularly to situations that cause you anxiety can desensitize you over time and make you feel less overwhelmed. Take small planned steps toward the situation until it no longer causes you to feel anxious.
- Join a support group. Meeting other people with similar problems will help you feel less isolated and you can mutually help each other overcome your challenges.
- Regular exercise is empowering and is good for mental as well as physical health.
- Eating a healthy diet consisting of regular meals made up of a balance of protein and complex carbohydrates is essential for regulating your mood. Avoid caffeine, sweets, alcohol, and processed food.
- Reduce the amount of stress in your life by getting organized. Sorting and storing things so you can find them when you need them will help you feel more in control of your life.
- Create routines for yourself. People with SAD have a low tolerance for uncertainty. Having routines will give you more control over your life by minimizing the uncertainties you have to face on a daily basis.
- Meditate. Meditation teaches you how to be present in the moment. We create problems when we think about the past or future. There are no problems in the now. Meditation teaches you to be in the now.
- Breathe. Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, delivers more oxygen to the brain, and helps you to feel more relaxed by bringing you into the present moment. Practise deep breathing whenever you feel anxious to relieve your anxiety.
If doing all these things is still not enough to relieve your anxiety, consult with your naturopathic doctor about herbs and supplements you can take to help you feel calmer and more balanced.