Following depression and alcoholism, social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental disorder in the United States. It is an exhausting condition that affects the lives of millions of people and their loved ones.
According to the director of the Social Anxiety Institute, Thomas A. Richards, social anxiety is defined as the fear of looking bad in the eyes of other people. This fear can lead to to debilitating feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, as well as as an overwhelming self-consciousness that makes a person more vulnerable to embarrassment and humiliation.
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder include anticipatory anxiety, worry, indecision, depression, fear, embarrassment, feelings of inferiority, and self-blame. It can be diagnosed as a specific social anxiety or as a more generalized social anxiety.
Many people who suffer from social anxiety report feeling fear, anxiousness, and nervousness when speaking in front of groups of people, in crowds, or in social situations that require interaction with strangers or seldom-seen acquaintances. Often, a person who feels anxious in social situations prefers to be alone or only with close family members and friends.
What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety?
Those who experience significant social anxiety often suffer from emotional distress in situations that don’t faze most people. Those situations might include:
- Meeting new people
- Facing criticism or being teased
- Finding yourself the center of attention or being observed while you are performing a task
- Meeting authority figures or other “important people”
- Being involved in social encounters, especially those that involve strangers
- Having to speak in front of small or large groups or friendships
People with social anxiety disorder or those with an avoidant personality can suffer from symptoms and behaviors that include:
- Intense fear of social situations
- Racing heart
- Turning red or blushing
- Excessive sweating
- Dry throat or mouth
- Trembling or tingling sensations
- Difficulty with swallowing
- Tense or twitching muscles
- Negative thoughts
- Substance abuse
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
There can be many causes for social anxiety disorder. Like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder likely arises from a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors.
Possible causes include genetics, a person’s individual brain structure, and the living or working environment. Numerous factors can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder, including a family history of the disorder, a negative experience that reinforces the disorder, the natural temperament of the individual, and new demands from life or work.
Can Social Anxiety Be Caused by a Hormonal Imbalance?
Studies have shown that a hormonal imbalance can affect mental processing, disrupting natural reactions to stressors resulting in social anxiety and its intense symptoms of fear.
In humans, the peptide hormone oxytocin and the steroid hormone testosterone play a key role in the development and execution of social-emotional behavior, both in men and women. Depending on the social environment and its cues, these hormones act via (and interact with) neurotransmitters, the chemicals that send messages to various systems in the body and regulate how they react.
Oxytocin reduces background anxiety and appears to make social interaction more rewarding while testosterone makes it easier to enter into uncertain social situations or environments that cause social anxiety and fear in others.
To make matters more complicated, other hormones could contribute to and exacerbate social anxiety and the fear that comes with it. Adrenaline and cortisol, “stress hormones” that are released in situations where you feel out of control, full of fear, or overwhelmed, can increase your social anxiety.
Estrogen may also contribute to social anxiety, which often fluctuates during the natural menstrual cycle and menopause.
An overactive thyroid can produce excess hormones that can cause anxiety and result in uncomfortable physical symptoms such as increased sweating, an increased heart rate and quivering.
What Is the Best Treatment for Social Anxiety?
Research and clinical evidence indicate that cognitive behavioral therapy can help people overcome the intense fear and other debilitating mental conditions of social anxiety disorder.
A successful mental health therapy program for social anxiety disorder must consist of cognitive methods, strategies, and concepts that teach your brain to change. Any treatment program must first acknowledge the problem with a recognition that with the proper attention, anxiety can be alleviated or even eliminated.
Many people fail in dealing with their anxiety because they can’t follow through on a commitment to cognitive-behavioral therapy that can sometimes be repetitious and difficult. A treatment plan also includes techniques to help reduce anxiety and fear and participation in a therapy group where people talk about their anxiety and work together to overcome it.
All of us, despite how mentally strong or resilient we like to think we are, often have to face situations that can be difficult to cope with. Fortunately, there are coping skills and self-help strategies that can be a vital part of day-to-day life and can also help to address acute or chronic social anxiety.
What if Cognitive Therapy Just Isn’t Enough?
For many people, cognitive behavioral therapy is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of a hormonal imbalance. You might be making excellent progress working with a mental health professional but still feel the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Pre-menopausal women and those in menopause often deal with a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that can cause stress, frustration, fear, depression, and anxiety. The hormone imbalance associated with menopause reduces the ability to manage stress and can prevent you from feeling positive about yourself, which can increase social anxiety.
A BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician can help you evaluate your previous and current medical and mental health programs to determine if they are effectively managing your individual physical conditions.
A hormonal imbalance that contributes to social anxiety could have the following indicators:
- Depressed mood (sometimes shows up as irritability)
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life (you don’t enjoy things you used to enjoy)
- Significant change in appetite (either up or down)
- Abnormal changes in your sleep pattern (too much or too little)
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate, excessive guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Becoming indecisive or easily overwhelmed
- Thoughts of death and suicide
Depression and social anxiety are not weaknesses. In fact, it is one of a number of very common mental health disorders with a variety of triggers. Pinpointing the specific factors affecting a person’s mood, physical condition, and willingness to interact with the world, which includes hormones, provides the physician with the key to successful treatment.
In this case, consider consulting with a BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician who has been rigorously trained in how hormones affect the body’s various systems and how they interact with each other.
Can Bioidentical Hormones Help Ameliorate Social Anxiety?
Bioidentical hormones, exact replicas of the hormones that are naturally produced by the body, match the body’s natural hormones molecule by molecule.
BodyLogicMD-affiliated physicians can help determine whether you are experiencing hormonally triggered social anxiety and fear and if bioidentical hormone therapy could help you feel better.
By testing blood, saliva or urine, a BodyLogicMD physician can accurately measure your hormone levels and determine whether hormone therapy is right for you. Bioidentical hormone therapy is one of the options that might be suggested to help you balance your hormone levels, which can lead to decreased anxiety. Working one-on-one with you, your BodyLogicMD physician can also help you design a nutrition plan that might include supplements, and lifestyle changes including exercise and meditation, which can decrease or eliminate the symptoms of anxiety.
What Else Can You Do to Combat Social Anxiety?
In addition to bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, there are vitamins and supplements that may help deal with the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of social anxiety.
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids provide numerous health benefits that could improve your body’s natural ability to ameliorate the symptoms of social anxiety while also helping to maintain cardiovascular health, improve mental health and overall cognitive ability, and can also aid in weight loss.
A mental health professional might also prescribe a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. SSRIs ease depression by increasing the levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that carries signals between brain cells. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. Diminished levels of serotonin increase the risk of mental and substance use disorders, which can have a powerful effect on how people interact with their families, their friends, and their communities.
However, SSRIs and other medications often used to treat depression and anxiety can come with serious side effects. In many cases, finding and treating the underlying cause is the best route toward finding true relief.
This is where a physician within the BodyLogicMD network comes in. The physicians within the BodyLogicMD network are highly trained professionals who specialize in restoring health, not just treating symptoms.
Your BodyLogicMD affiliated provider might also recommend a program such as CognitivePro, which is designed to stimulate the brain and improve the cognitive abilities of adults struggling with conditions that contribute to social anxiety including:
- Brain fog
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Brain fatigue
- Decreased clarity of thought
Brain health and body health are inextricably linked. The brain helps you make appropriate decisions that can lead to happiness and health, decisions that can keep you on a vibrant path as you age. Most of us understand how our bodies change as we age and take action to stay healthy but neglect to care for our brains. This is especially ironic because good mental health and an active lifestyle are part and parcel of the same thing. To learn more how your hormones affect your body and brain, and vice versa, contact the BodyLogicMD affiliated physician nearest you today and take your first step toward restoring your health and peace of mind.