The New, Natural and Effective Solution for Social Anxiety Disorder
So I heard you are back out in the “real world”.
I saw you try hard to get back to your “normal” life.
But after being forced to live inside your own bubbles for almost two years, life just isn’t the same anymore.
Face-to-face interaction becomes awkward.
You feel uncomfortable with making small talks and eye contact, not to mention hugging and kissing others.
Heck, even ordering your usual coffee at that shop around the corner feels weird and foreign.
You are not alone.
Social anxiety is real. It can happen to anyone.
And when you don’t feel like talking to anyone or reaching out for help (in person or not), I have the perfect solution for you.
Hint: the solution is based on something you already love and are familiar with. 😉
Jump to a Section!
🤯 What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Caveat: as a mental health professional I’m not a big fan of giving people textbook definitions of diagnoses. I don’t think mental health issues/symptoms are checkboxes to be matched against. It’s a wide spectrum. In my music therapy work, I work with people from where they are at, and we are in a journey together to strive for better health. However, if you’re wondering whether you “have” social anxiety disorder, here you go…
There are 10 diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) (1).
- Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (e.g., having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (e.g., eating or drinking), and performing in front of others (e.g., giving a speech).
- The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated (i.e., will be humiliating or embarrassing; will lead to rejection or offend others).
- The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
- The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
- The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as panic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.
- If another medical condition (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, obesity, disfigurement from burns or injury) is present, the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is clearly unrelated or is excessive.
Note: “performance only type” means if the fear restricted to speaking or performing in public.
In a nutshell, the essential feature of social anxiety disorder is a marked, or intense, fear or anxiety of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized (negatively evaluated) by others.
😣 What Does Social Anxiety Feel Like?
In response to the diagnostic criteria listed above, the person is concerned that he or she will be judged as anxious, weak, crazy, stupid, boring, intimidating, dirty, or unlikable. The individual might fear that anxiety symptoms will show, such as blushing, trembling, sweating, stumbling over one’s words, or staring, that will be negatively evaluated by others. Some are fear of being rejected (2).
As a result, an individual might avoid eating, drinking, writing, shaking hands, or engaging in discussion about intimate topics.
The anticipatory anxiety may occur sometimes far in advance of upcoming situations. The degree and type of fear and anxiety may vary, and avoidance can be extensive or subtle.
Individuals with social anxiety disorder often overestimate the negative consequences of social situations – the judgment of being out of proportion is made by clinician, while taking sociocultural factors into consideration.
Other features supporting the diagnosis might include overly rigid body posture, inadequate eye contact, or speaking with an overly soft voice. Self-medication with substances is common (e.g. drinking before going to a party).
😨 Where Does Social Anxiety Come From?
There are several causes of social anxiety disorder – a mix of biological and environmental factors (3), including:
- Inherited traits
- It is not clear the proportion of genetics or learnt behaviours
- Past (especially negative) experience might cause or increase social anxiety behaviours
- Brain structure
- People who have an overactive amygdala may have a heightened fear response, which causes increased anxiety in social situations
As I am writing this article in early 2022, I have fully experienced the impact of anxiety in general. After being in social isolation and lockdown for months, our environment, brain structure and behaviours have changed. Not to mention the extra anxiety social media and pandemic updates caused.
Face-to-face human interaction and connection are part of basic human needs way before civilisation. Technology is great, don’t get me wrong – it has been a life saver through the pandemic when we cannot travel to see our loved ones. Although it is 100% online here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, there is no denying that we still need face-to-face interaction to a certain extent. I advocate for that. My point is, social anxiety can be common. It can be among every one of us to a certain degree. What we need to do is to be constant self-aware, so that we can take action before it’s too late.
😶 How Will Social Anxiety Disorder Develop and Affect Your Life?
Social anxiety might control you if you ignore it. Anxieties might slowly creep into your work, school, relationships and even take away things you enjoy in life. Social anxiety disorder can cause (3):
- Negative self-talk
- Low self-esteem
- Declining social skills
- Social isolation
- Low academic achievement or work performance
- Substance abuse
Note: Other anxiety disorders and certain other mental health disorders, particularly major depressive disorder and substance abuse problems, often occur with social anxiety disorder.
🤜🏼 How is Social Anxiety Treated?
Now that we start to understand what social anxiety is, we can look into solutions for treatment and prevention.
As mentioned above, there is different levels of severity and influence of daily life. The most common treatment for social anxiety disorder includes psychotherapy or medications, or both. Talk to a clinician for more information.
Treatments might take weeks or months. It is a journey and an experiment to find out what works. Speaking of finding the right solution for you…
There are “natural” remedies to sooth ourselves and calm our nerves. Herbs, plants, supplements… which might help a bit.
Do you like music though? If you do, I might have the PERFECT solution for you.
💬 Let’s Talk About Music
If I ask you to discuss your favourite music with a stranger, how confident would you be in keeping up with the conversation?
Music is a great conversation starter.
But this is just a tip of the iceberg of what music and music therapy can do to improve your social skills.
In the context of social anxiety, music therapy can help address your emotional and social goals.
1. Music has calming influence on both your body and mind. It produces endorphins – natural painkillers usually produced during a happy state of mind, and lowers anxiety and stress, promotes relaxation by reducing muscle tension.
2. Music serves as a non-verbal emotional outlet for self-expression. Have you ever felt a lost for words to describe how you’re feeling – but that’s always one song that does the job for you? You can also participate in lyrics analysis, lyrics substitution and song-writing to explore and understand your emotions.
1. Improve social awareness
- Through both individual and group music making: improving eye contact, turn-taking skills and shared instrument play (joint-play), imitation, acceptance and responses to activities
2. Improve social motivation through
- Strengthening flexibility (e.g. staying in the room, consistent engagement)
- Independent and awareness of social contributions
- Initiation – joint play
- Awareness of boundaries (including adherance, acceptance, negotiation, and change)
- Regulating behaviours
This is what might happen in a group music therapy session:
- Participants make music together with drums and small percussions
- Goal: social awareness
- Each participant gets a solo section – they take turns to express themselves musically under the spotlight
- Goal: social awareness
- The group writes and perform a song
- Goal: social motivation
And the best part is, it doesn’t necessarily have to involve words. Music is a universal language. Music facilitates social interaction and self-expression.
That being said, I understand that you might still be hesitant in going back in the real world again.
Here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, all sessions are held online. Anytime, anywhere. You are always one tap away from accessing support.
💪🏻 How Do I Get Over Social Anxiety?
If you have social anxiety disorder but are not ready to get help from a medical expert, psychotherapist or other allied health professionals, here are a few tips that you can put under your belt:
- Embrace a balanced lifestyle – sleep, diet, physical activities, mental wellbeing
- Limit caffeine or alcohol intake
- Reach out to people you trust and feel comfortable around, gradually expand your comfort zone
- Learn a few coping techniques and relaxation exercises
- Prepare and practise conversation
Like most mental health journey, it is all about taking consistent baby steps. One day your biggest win might be to have talked to a stranger for 5 minutes straight, and another day your biggest win might be to have left your bed.
It is okay.
Slow progress is better than no progress.
Social anxiety symptoms can be reduced if you get help or take action. For some people, it gets better as they grow older.
It is okay to take things slow. Human beings are adaptive and resilient.
Make the comeback stronger than the setback.
This new, natural and evidence-based practice called music therapy is always here for you. You are only one tap away from unlocking your new life – since things might never be “normal” again.
Don’t lose hope. I’m here for you! 💛
Today is the day.
Do this for YOURSELF. Try this new solution to reduce anxiety, improve your mental health and quality of life.
Let's jam and explore how we can achieve your health goals through music therapy. ♫Learn More