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Social Phobia Treatment Options

written by: Nichole Weathers • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/10/2010

Social phobias can cause anxiety and restrict a person's ability to function in a group setting. There are multiple social phobia treatment options available that can help reduce or eliminate social phobias.

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    What is a Social Phobia?

    A social phobia, sometimes referred to as social anxiety disorder, is an intense fear of becoming embarrassed or humiliated in a social or group setting. A person who suffers from a social phobia may avoid group outings or public speaking, which only worsens the phobia. Even going to restaurants or signing a credit card receipt at the cashier's counter in a store can become something to dread.

    A social phobia can become so severe that it affects a person’s daily functioning. There are a few different social phobia treatment options available that your doctor or psychiatrist can tailor to your particular symptoms and their severity. Successful treatment of a social phobia can reduce overall stress levels and improve your daily functioning. Imagine how great you will feel once you have conquered your social phobia.

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    Cognitive Behavior Therapy

    Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the way you think and act in a certain setting or situation. There are two distinctive types of CBT that can be useful here. The first type focuses on observing distorted and negative thinking patterns and replacing them with healthy positive ones. An example of a distorted thought pattern may be "black and white" thinking, where a person thinks only in extremes and does not consider the "grey" area.

    The other type is desensitization, which focuses on desensitizing patients from their phobias. It's done by slowly exposing them to what they fear in a safe and gradual setting until they overcome their phobia or can at least handle the situation in a healthy manner. An example of this could be the treatment for an individual who has a phobia of seeing a doctor.

    • Treatment might start with the person just sitting in a waiting room.
    • The next stage could be to talk casually with the doctor.
    • Then the person could actually go into the doctor's room. Each of these steps can be accompanied by relaxation techniques. In addition the phobic can be helped by the presence of a trusted person at their side throughout.

    According to Mayo Clinic, up to 75 percent of people with social anxiety disorder improve with cognitive behavior therapy.

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    Prescription Medications

    Therapy is often coupled with prescription medication as an effective social phobia treatment. Antidepressants may be prescribed to help keep symptoms of anxiety or comorbid depression at bay. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a popular choice for antidepressant medications. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another antidepressant choice.

    Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers that may be taken on an as-needed basis to treat panic attacks or to help keep calm while confronting the social phobia. Benzodiazepines may also be taken on a short term basis, but care should be taken as they can cause physical dependence. Tricyclic or MAO-inhibitor antidepressants may be tried if newer antidepressants are not effective. BuSpar is a prescription medication that may be useful in reducing anxiety. Beta blockers are also prescribed to reduce physical symptoms associated with social anxiety, such as heart palpitations.

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    Natural Supplements

    Some people choose to go the alternative medicine route, either in conjunction with their therapy and prescriptions, or as its own social phobia treatment. Always talk to a doctor before starting or stopping any medication, prescription or over-the-counter. Some herbs can interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. Natural tranquilizers include kava, valerian root, passionflower, chamomile and GABA (an amino acid). St. John’s wort, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e), tryptophan, tyrosine and DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) are sometimes taken as a natural antidepressant.

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    Lifestyle Changes

    Sometimes making positive changes in your lifestyle can help reduce your overall stress or vulnerability factors such as lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, illness or high stress levels.

    Cut down on alcohol consumption Stimulants can worsen anxiety or even trigger a panic attack. Experts recommend that you eliminate stimulants from your life, including cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs. Follow a healthy sleep regime and avoid napping during the day, as this can instigate insomnia. Eat a well-balanced diet and aim for at least three meals a day.

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    References

    "The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook"; Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.; 2005

    Mayo Clinic: Social Anxiety

    Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association: Social Anxiety Fact Sheet

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