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Overcoming Social Anxiety in Trauma Recovery

According to Mental Health America (MHA), 15 million or 7% of U.S. adults have social anxiety disorder (SAD). Moreover, for more than 75% of people, symptoms of SAD manifest in childhood or their early teen years. The prevalence of SAD developing before adulthood speaks to a strong relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and anxiety. In other words, SAD is intricately connected to early traumatic experiences that impede your ability to recover from trauma. However, trauma recovery and overcoming social anxiety is possible through a holistic trauma-specific approach to care.

At The Guest House, we recognize that many types of anxiety are significantly influenced by challenging life events. Stressful and traumatic life experiences can leave you feeling overwhelmed and fatigued from overstimulated stress responses. Overcoming social anxiety is difficult when such distress is accompanied by extreme fear, worry, and anxiety. Even in non-threatening situations, overcoming social anxiety is impaired by maladaptive coping that impedes quality of life. Therefore, we are committed to providing an individualized approach to anxiety treatment and recovery that addresses your specific needs.

Through holistic care, we can support you as a whole person to heal in mind, body, and spirit. With access to treatment that considers the intersection of your external and internal experiences, overcoming social anxiety becomes possible. However, you may question why traumatic experiences contribute to SAD. How will overcoming social anxiety support trauma recovery? Digging into the roots of SAD will give you insight into the effects of trauma on your psychological health. With more awareness, you can build tools that help with overcoming social anxiety to support long-term recovery.

The Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Trauma

Trauma in and of itself leads to psychological distress. Thus, the distress of trauma increases your risk for mental health disorders and unhealthy coping strategies like substance use. According to the South African Journal of Psychiatry, childhood trauma increases your risk for mental health disorders later in life. More specifically, emotional neglect in childhood has been associated with higher rates of SAD.

The social and emotional consequences of unaddressed ACEs are rooted in the erosion of well-being, including features like self-esteem and self-worth. Further, the psychological distress of trauma has a significant impact on how you see yourself and the world. Many of the brain changes that stem from trauma share similarities to thinking pattern changes in SAD. As stated in “Trauma” from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), your brain is designed to send out signals to the body to protect itself when it encounters stress. This natural signaling, also known as fight-or-flight response, is an adaptive response to dangerous situations.

Your fight-or-flight response is a rush of chemicals that prepares your mind and body to quickly respond to a threatening event. An example of this is quickly slamming on your brakes to avoid a car accident.

There are different factors to consider in the development of mental health disorders from trauma. Not only can trauma itself contribute to psychological distress, but the context in which the trauma occurs too. The context in which one trauma or multiple traumas occur can impact the type of mental health disorder you develop.

Listed below are some of the different disorders that can develop from traumatic experiences:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Memory loss
  • Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, people, and places that are reminders of the trauma
  • Negative perception of the self, others, and the world
  • Hypervigilance
  • Easily startled
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Irritability and anger outbursts

Self-destructive behaviors of PTSD could include:

  • Substance misuse
  • Significant distress and impairment in function for more than a month

PTSD is more prevalent throughout the lifespan of women; therefore, women are more likely to experience multiple interpersonal traumas throughout their lives, such as:

  • Early childhood trauma
  • Intimate partner violence (IPV)

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

ASD Includes many of the same symptoms as PTSD, but the symptoms last for less than a month following the traumatic event. In addition, ASD occurs more frequently following interpersonal trauma and can develop into PTSD.

Adjustment Disorder

Symptoms of adjustment disorder might include:

  • An excessive reaction to stress, i.e., your response to stress is out of proportion with the stressor, which can lead to strong emotional and behavioral symptoms
  • Negative thoughts and feelings like sadness and hopelessness
  • Impairs functioning at work, school, and interacting with others
  • Symptoms can last as long as six months

Additional Trauma and Stress-Related Disorders:

These occur when you experience many of the same symptoms found in PTSD but do not meet all the criteria for PTSD or ASD. Even though you do not meet the criteria for PTSD or ASD, you still experience deeply distressing symptoms and functional impairment.

Experiencing Anxiety

You can experience a variety of different types of anxiety, such as:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression

Episodes of anxiety can include symptoms that last for at least two weeks on nearly every day. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Irritation
  • Low mood
  • Lack of positive emotions
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low energy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Trauma-related depression can lead to internalizing the trauma

Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

You may engage in self-medicating with substances to avoid the negative thoughts, feelings, and memories associated with trauma. However, self-medicating is an avoidance-based behavior to suppress or eliminate distressing symptoms. Misusing substances may temporarily alleviate trauma symptoms but can exasperate trauma and other mental health disorders, including:

  • Sleep issues: Trauma-related nightmares can increase avoidance of sleep. They may also have you developing constant worry about your and your loved one’s safety. Additionally, difficulties with co-occurring depression and or anxiety can also contribute to sleep issues.
  • Dissociative symptoms: Experiencing depersonalization symptoms in which you feel detached from your body. You may also experience derealization in which you feel detached from your surroundings. Therefore, It feels like everything is happening in slow motion, or you are unaware of things happening around you. Dissociative symptoms can last for a few seconds to days.
  • Hyperarousal: Trauma-related hyperarousal leaves you feeling like you are constantly on high alert for danger. It is difficult for you to ever feel safe, so you may engage in excessive rituals to feel safe or to ensure the safety of your loved ones.

Challenges with overcoming social anxiety in trauma in particular have ties to maladaptive avoidance-based coping. Thus, the symptoms of SAD leave you with negative beliefs about your attributes and abilities. The lack of belief in your value further manifests as an intense fear of embarrassment, humiliation, and negative evaluation from others. Moreover, as ADAA notes in “Social Anxiety Disorder” overcoming social anxiety disorder can be impaired by other closely related anxiety disorders like PTSD.

The symptoms that different disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD, and SAD share in common is anxiety. Despite the complexities of the relationship between SAD and trauma, overcoming social anxiety is possible when you understand its avoidance aspect. With a better understanding of trauma, overcoming social anxiety is possible. Now you can recognize a variety of tools for overcoming social anxiety.

Tools for Overcoming Social Anxiety

One of the most important aspects of overcoming social anxiety is recognizing the need to treat both. Addressing overcoming social anxiety alone will not resolve its underlying causes in trauma. On the flip side, addressing traumatic experiences alone does not acknowledge the other conditions that have manifested from it. Moreover, for many people, trauma gets buried in the manifestation of untreated self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors like SUD and mental health disorders. Therefore, digging into the trauma that has manifested as SAD can support overcoming social anxiety and dismantling your trauma.

Listed below are some of the tools that can be utilized in overcoming social anxiety:

  • Engage in holistic, evidence-based therapies and therapeutic modalities such as individual and group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Gradually explore situations that cause distress to support overcoming social anxiety. Try going to small events with a friend.
  • Reach out for support from your loved ones. Asking a loved one to go with you as you tackle a situation supports overcoming social anxiety.
  • Make time to check in with yourself. Keep a journal to challenge your negative and anxious thoughts and feelings. Look for evidence that an anxious thought is real or imagined.
  • Engage in other adaptive coping mechanisms during anxious situations. For example, using the five senses strategy, note the things you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste around you.
  • Build on your relaxation and distraction techniques to practice overcoming social anxiety including deep breathing exercises and mindfulness.
  • Boost your physical and psychological well-being with physical activities.

Looking at the different tools you can use in your daily life to overcome social anxiety may feel daunting. However, you do not have to work on overcoming social anxiety alone. Reaching out for support from professional clinicians can give you the support and insight you need to address overcoming social anxiety and trauma. In particular, therapies like individual, group, and somatic experiencing can help you dismantle the roots of trauma and co-occurring disorders to build resilience to distress and heal.

Dismantling Social Anxiety With Individual and Group Therapy

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), CBT has been effective in overcoming social anxiety. CBT is a research-supported psychotherapy that has been commonly used in overcoming social anxiety through changes in thinking, feeling, and behaving. Moreover, CBT is a problem-oriented strategy therapy that focuses on recognizing and replacing irrational thought and belief patterns with healthier ones.

Some of the challenges CBT tackles in overcoming social anxiety include:

  • Addressing negative beliefs you have about yourself and your abilities
  • Reducing perfectionism
  • Learning to recognize the difference between realistic and irrational thoughts and beliefs
  • Practicing assertiveness and social skills to support overcoming social anxiety
  • Reducing feelings of guilt and embarrassment over past social interactions
  • Learning how to move away from avoidance behaviors like procrastination related to social anxiety

Working on these problem areas reduces symptoms to support overcoming social anxiety and depression. Furthermore, one of the things that makes CBT particularly effective for overcoming social anxiety, is its ability to work in a variety of settings. As noted in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, CBT’s two main intervention techniques are individual and group. There are several individual approaches to overcoming social anxiety like exposure therapy (ET). However, the main focus and core of the work done in CBT for individual therapy is taking those hardwired negative thoughts and gradually rewriting your thought process through practice and repetition.

Regarding group therapy for overcoming social anxiety, at first, it may seem like the exact thing that would cause more anxiety. The social aspect of overcoming social anxiety in group therapy is understandably daunting. However, group therapy offers some unique benefits for overcoming social anxiety. One way that group therapy is effective in overcoming social anxiety is your continuous exposure to a social situation.

Yet, unlike other social situations, group therapy gives you access to support. You can find support for overcoming social anxiety from clinicians and peers who share many similar challenges. Thus, through group CBT, you learn how to restructure negative and dysfunctional cognitions surrounding social situations. Further, the work of CBT in individual and group intervention not only supports overcoming social anxiety but also co-occurring disorders. As a result, CBT can be effective in overcoming social anxiety symptoms and dismantling the trauma at the root of your challenges.

Now you may question how you can work on overcoming social anxiety when you are unaware of any trauma in your life. For many people, one of the major challenges of trauma is when it gets buried in your mind. Therefore, trauma gets stuck in the body and manifests itself in conditions like social anxiety, SUD, and chronic pain. With somatic experiencing (SE), you can uncover the trauma stuck in your body to support overcoming social anxiety.

Benefits of Somatic Experiencing for Overcoming Social Anxiety

SE is most commonly known for its ability to support trauma treatment. As noted in “Somatic Experiencing: Using Interoception and Proprioception as Core Elements of Trauma Therapy” by Peter Payne et al., SE is a form of trauma therapy. Specifically, SE focuses on reducing chronic stress and PTSD by paying attention to your internal sensations. By noticing your bodily sensations, you can indirectly approach traumatic memories to get at those difficult-to-process thoughts and feelings.

Awareness of your body opens the door to understanding your bodily responses and associated negative and positive emotions. Although SE is more associated with trauma recovery, it can also be an effective tool for overcoming social anxiety. As stated in Neuropsychiatrie, somatic complaints are common with anxiety disorders. Yet, somatic complaints have a particular association with social anxiety.

Some of the common somatic symptoms found in social anxiety and other anxiety disorders include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Short of breath

Thus, the social and somatic nature of SAD further highlights the value of therapeutic modalities for overcoming social anxiety.

Healing Social Anxiety and Trauma at The Guest House

The core of our treatment program at The Guest House is the recognition that self-destructive behaviors and mental health disorders are coping mechanisms for trauma. Recognizing the interconnected relationships between challenges with SUD, trauma, and mental health disorders is a foundational piece of recovery. Therefore, we provide a safe and non-judgmental space where holistic trauma-specific care guides our commitment to your healing. Through a holistic approach, overcoming social anxiety is possible because you have access to a wide range of therapeutic tools.

Whether you are looking for evidence-based talk therapies, like individual and group therapy, to support overcoming social anxiety, or if you are looking for therapeutic modalities like somatic therapy to dismantle trauma, there is a path for you. Recovery is not one-dimensional, but rather a dynamic process for healing the whole person for long-term recovery.

Trauma and social anxiety share a close relationship as trauma often manifests itself as symptoms like anxiety. Social anxiety in trauma can act as an avoidance coping strategy in which people and places related to the trauma create anxiety. In addition, challenges with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are also associated with the development of social anxiety, as ACEs erode important resilience features like self-esteem and self-worth. However, overcoming social anxiety and trauma is possible with holistic trauma-specific  approaches like individual and group therapy and somatic experiencing (SE) to address co-occurring challenges. Moreover, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of modalities to support your individual needs for healing. Call us at (855) 483-7800 today.