About 15 million people in the U.S. live with social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Research into treatment for this type of anxiety disorder is ongoing, but one team of scientists from Queen’s University in Ontario suggested that physical activity and relaxation exercises may be beneficial.
Given how social anxiety disorder can disrupt everyday life for individuals who have the condition, the addition of physical activity to the treatments that are currently available may significantly improve their quality of life.
What do we currently know about social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is distinct from typical feelings of nervousness regarding social events. While the average person can feel anxious about meeting new people, those who have social anxiety disorder may experience discomfort weeks in advance. The fear caused by the condition can be bad enough to hurt individuals’ abilities to attend school, go to work and perform other tasks that involve being around people.
Other behaviors associated with social anxiety disorder include:
- Persistent fear of embarrassing oneself in front of people
- Fear of others’ judgment
- Avoidance of populated places
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Nausea, blushing, sweating, trembling or other physical signs of stress in the presence of others.
Two types of treatment are available
If you or someone you know has experienced these symptoms for at least six months, it is possible that social anxiety disorder is the cause. Only a medical evaluation can tell for sure. Once a diagnosis is made, doctors may recommend one or both available options for treatment:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches new ways of thinking and behavior to help alleviate the stress associated with social anxiety disorder.
- Medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants, may benefit some individuals.
When it comes to the latter treatment, it is important to remember that not everyone will react to certain drugs the same way. Given that there are several types of medications, doctors and patients may need to work together to evaluate different options before deciding upon the best one. This underscores the importance of continued research on more effective treatments.
Exercise may become third therapy
According to new research published in PLOS One, physical activity and relaxation techniques may create positive changes in how people with social anxiety disorder perceive their environments. This is based on a study by researchers from Ontario, who experimented on subjects by administering a test for anxiety known as a point-light display. In this test, a few points of light are arranged like a constellation of stars to look like a person. Because of how ambiguous the arrangement is, people taking the test may view it as facing toward them or away from them. People with anxiety are more likely to see the figure facing toward them, compared to people without this condition.
In the new study, the researchers discovered that, among those with social anxiety disorder, those who walked or jogged on a treadmill for 10 minutes were less likely to feel the figure was facing them. This can be indicative of feeling less threatened by their environment. The study authors also noted these findings may explain past observations that physical activity and relaxation exercises have helped people with anxiety and mood disorders.
As researchers continue to develop more innovative treatments for conditions such as social anxiety disorder, you may want to consider physical exercise and relaxation techniques as part of a personalized health plan for preventing and alleviating anxiety.
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