There’s a Catch-22 with social anxiety disorder that makes it different from other medical conditions, in that the medical condition itself prevents you from getting treatment for said medical condition. How are you supposed to call a physician to make an appointment when you’re too afraid to talk on the telephone, let alone in person? If I was able to call you, then I wouldn’t need to call you in the first place.
For years after realizing I had social anxiety disorder, I desperately wanted to be treated, but I was too afraid to ask anyone for help— be it a doctor or my family. Through online research, there seemed to be two treatment options: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or prescription medication. I didn’t see how simply talking to a shrink could have any effect on my shyness, so I wanted to try the drugs. But first, I needed to see a psychiatrist who could prescribe the medication to me. Which brought me back to the Catch-22 of social anxiety disorder.
I went years, trying to build up the courage to call a psychiatrist. I got close several times before backing out at the last second. Then, I lost my health insurance, so I stopped trying all together for a while. Eventually, after the health scare I wrote about before, I got a health insurance plan through my parents. By then, I was so sick and fed up from burying myself in my social anxiety hole, that I brought myself to call my primary physician for a “routine check-up”. Then, at the office with the doctor, I also casually mentioned my social anxiety.
That was only the beginning, and it may seem trivial, but it was a huge step for me. The truth is there is no easy way to reach out and ask for help when you have social anxiety disorder, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through years of frustration until you reach a breaking point like I did. There are other options.
First of all, I realized prescription medication wasn’t the magic cure I’d hoped it would be, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) wasn’t as useless as I thought it would be. Going to a psychologist for CBT brings us back to the Catch-22, not to mention the cost, but there are ways to get around that. There are numerous free self-help CBT options available online through podcasts and audio programs. CBT combined with mindfulness meditation helped me a lot, and you can do both of those things by yourself without having to talk to anyone. You might not be able to completely overcome your social anxiety through self-help CBT, but it might at least get you around the Catch-22 by helping you get to the point where you’re able to ask others for help.
The other major thing you can do yourself is improve your overall health through diet and exercise. I’ve written before about how much better I felt after cutting out artificial and processed food and adopting a plant-based gluten-free diet, though I didn’t talk specifically about how the dietary change effected my social anxiety. When I was suffering from constant fatigue and brain fog, it made me feel more withdrawn, irritable, and just feeling out of it. Eating healthy and exercising daily doesn’t magically make me talkative, but it makes me feel more open, energetic, happier, and engaged with the world around me.
The final thing you can do yourself is take natural supplements. I probably err on the side of taking too many supplements, such as vitamin B-12, B-complex, D-3, minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iodine, probiotics, omega-3 algae oil, and herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea. I don’t know if they all work or not, but they don’t seem to hurt me at all. Specifically for social anxiety disorder, I take 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine, which mimic the effects of anti-depressants by boosting your serotonin and dopamine levels, but without the side effects the drugs cause. Again, it’s not a magic cure for social anxiety, but I feel better while taking them.
As you can see, there’s a lot you can do yourself to help overcome your social anxiety, but all of these things will only take you so far. The final step is exposure. You have to face your fear and talk to people. I know it’s easier said than done, and I’m still struggling with this phase myself, but I guess that’s the other Catch-22 of social anxiety disorder. The only way to get over your fear of talking to people is to talk to people.