Social Anxiety in Recovery

When you’re in treatment for substance abuse, you should focus on yourself first. Addiction recovery involves developing self-awareness through introspection and self-care. This means that you might spend more time with yourself than you’re used to, but you shouldn’t isolate yourself. Interpersonal connection is essential for recovery. However, it’s not uncommon to develop social anxiety during and after treatment. Learning why this happens and how to cope with social anxiety can improve your chances of healing and staying sober.

What Is Social Anxiety?

While certain social situations can make anyone feel nervous from time to time, this feeling doesn’t usually impair your ability to create relationships and thrive with support from others. For people with social anxiety, though, dealing with others can produce significant distress that impairs their daily lives.

Symptoms may vary in intensity from person to person. Different individuals may have trouble with distinct types of social situations. Many people with this type of anxiety suffer from considerable emotional anguish in situations such as the following:

  • Being the center of attention
  • Meeting new people or talking to strangers
  • Sharing deep feelings or having intimate connections
  • Going out in public
  • Dating
  • Attending school
  • Going to work
  • Shopping
  • Parties and other social gatherings
  • Experiencing physical issues, such as sweating or blushing, that cause extreme embarrassment

The symptoms of social anxiety can be physical as well as mental and include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blushing
  • Shaking
  • Digestive distress
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Muscle tension or pain

Why Does Social Anxiety Often Hit During Addiction Recovery?

Social anxiety is the third most common mental disorder among American adults. Substance abuse is the second most common psychological disorder in the U.S. Therefore, it makes sense that the two often co-occur.

Substance abuse dulls your sensations and emotions. When you eliminate drugs from your system, you start to feel everything, including the pain from current challenges and past traumas. Anger, fear and insecurity often crop up, and you have to learn coping strategies that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.

One of the intense feelings that can arise once you stop using is anxiety. For many people in addiction recovery, this manifests itself as social anxiety. All of a sudden, you have a heightened awareness of the way that you feel in every situation. This also means that you can read other people’s emotions better too.

Interpersonal interactions can become extremely intense when you’re sober. They may trigger hidden anxieties or bring up unexpected emotions.

Plus, some of the following circumstances can create severe anxiety after getting sober:

  • Worrying about cravings while hanging out with other people
  • Thinking that people are judging you because of your addiction
  • Fearing rejection or abandonment
  • Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with people
  • Being embarrassed by your behaviors, appearance or personal characteristics

Some people develop substance abuse disorders because they already have social anxiety. They may use drugs or alcohol to cope with the distressing emotions that the anxiety disorder brings up. The anxiety may persist after treatment. That’s why it’s especially important to address and treat the social anxiety disorder and any other mental health issues along with the substance abuse disorder.

How Social Anxiety Interferes With Recovery

It can be frustrating to feel like social anxiety controls your life. This is especially true after you’ve broken free from the grasp of your addiction. The symptoms of social anxiety can be as detrimental to your life as the consequences of substance abuse.

Complications that are associated with social anxiety include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-criticism
  • Isolation
  • Trouble maintaining relationships
  • Poor performance at work and school
  • Difficulty stating your needs

These complications can become barriers to your recovery. Feelings of loneliness, unworthiness, inadequacy and insecurity can make you want to use again. Perhaps even more significantly, these complications make you more likely to relapse.

This type of anxiety also makes people less likely to participate in treatment. If you avoid the thing that you need to get better, you can become stuck in a cycle of addiction, recovery and relapse.

3 Tips for Coping With Social Anxiety in Recovery

You’re not alone if you struggle with this type of anxiety. But you don’t have to suffer alone either. The strategies below can guide you toward managing your anxiety and supporting your recovery.

1. Practice Relaxation and Mindfulness Techniques

The cycle of anxiety can be difficult to suppress once it begins. But you can’t avoid social situations for the rest of your life.

Learning relaxation techniques can help you regulate your nervous system when you feel activated. You can use breathing and calming strategies in real-life situations.

One way to stop racing thoughts and relax is to look around the room and name one thing that you can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. This visual embodiment exercise orients you in your space, which helps you feel safe. It also grounds you in the present moment and interrupts unhealthy thought patterns.

Calming your mind and body requires practice. It may not feel easy at first. That’s why it’s a good idea to establish a meditation or relaxation routine. If you practice enough, your nervous system will become wired to regulate itself automatically.

2. Set Up Healthy, Easeful Social Situations

Your social life will change in addiction recovery. You probably won’t be going to the same parties or engaging in the same activities as you did when you were in active addiction. In fact, going to gatherings where drugs or alcohol are involved may exacerbate your anxiety.

You don’t have to avoid nights out at the bar forever. But being around substances and people right now gives you a greater hurdle to push against.

Do activities that you enjoy with people who make you feel at ease. This can look like biking to a local park and reading on a bench by yourself as you people-watch. Maybe it involves taking a structured class or signing up for a virtual book club. Perhaps attending one support group meeting each day is your favorite social outlet now.

Get back into the social scene gradually. Try different things, and be gentle with yourself. Learning coping skills in therapy can help you reduce anxiety as you dip your toes in the water.

3. Make Treatment Work for You

Substance abuse treatment isn’t always an easy path. Growth and healing are often uncomfortable.

But you can create a treatment plan that fosters your strengths and keeps you on the path to recovery. This is what we aim for at Burning Tree West. We want you to be honest with yourself and our team about your anxieties as well as your gifts. Personalized treatment improves your chances of success in recovery.

For example, many people with social anxiety don’t feel comfortable in support groups. However, these types of communities can be instrumental during and after treatment. If you struggle with social anxiety, you may prefer working with a therapist one-on-one. Talk to them about strategies to combat your anxiety in situations with others. You can work up to participating in support groups.

Working on anxiety disorder treatment with a mental health professional as you move through recovery can help you create a social life that fulfills you without draining you.