Choosing Your Social Anxiety Support Group

How to choose a social anxiety support group?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be a very debilitating condition when left untreated. Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven very effective in treating the symptoms of social phobia. However, this form of therapy may sometimes stretch over time. And in these cases, in particular, joining a social anxiety support group can be especially helpful.

SAD support groups are safe environments where people who share similar social problems can freely discuss their experiences and learn from each other. If you are struggling with social anxiety this may be particularly useful as other group members would likely have first-hand experience of the difficulties of speaking openly about what anxiety means to you and the ways it manifests in your life.

But don’t worry! During meets, people would understand even if you prefer not to speak out during a meeting (probably just like you would!). In fact, this may be a good strategy if you are trying to decide whether you fit well within a particular group.

And if you worry that you might have a severe form of social anxiety, it would probably be best to seek treatment before you look for a support group. Even though they can be very effective in helping people living with less severe SAD, support groups should not be used as the first line of treatment or as a substitute for one.

Related: Test: Do you have social anxiety?

Our team has compiled a list of resources we hope you would find helpful in choosing the right social group for you. And if you’ve benefited from joining any online support groups, feel free to email us at hello(at)theneuroscope.com and we will include it here!

SAS Social Anxiety Support Groups

If you are living in Canada, the US, UK, Republic of Ireland, India, New Zealand, or Australia, SAS can help you find the right group for your needs. The nature of the particular groups can vary widely so there’s something for everybody but it’s also important that you spend the time to find the group most well-suited to you.

If you would like to join a group which focuses on CBT, it would be better to join a more therapy-oriented group. In these groups you would be often challenged to face the triggers of your anxiety, while remaining in the safe space of your peer group.

Find out more about social anxiety and CBT groups!

SAS can also connect you to more traditional support groups, which do not have treatment as their main aim. Often, these would vary widely in their nature. All of these groups offer a supportive and welcoming environment in which you can feel comfortable sharing your thoughts on your experience with social anxiety.

ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

While ADAA started as an exclusively US project (nearly 40 years ago!), on their website today you will be able to find anxiety support group listings not just in America but also in Canada, South Africa and Australia.

And there are even more international listings for groups that are run online or by phone!

ADAA lists a wider range of groups than SAS. You will find many social groups for generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, OCD, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. 

However, according to both experts and participants social anxiety groups tend to be most effective when the focus for all group members is on living with SAD. Participants with other mental health illnesses in the group (and possibly with less understanding of social anxiety) tend to change the group dynamics which can hurt the effectiveness of the established support network.

So, if you decide to look for a suitable group on ADAA’s platform, make sure you search for social anxiety support groups in particular!

Meetup

You probably know this one– in 2017 nearly 35 million people were using Meetup to self-organize into groups of different topics, sizes, rules and purpose. While the website used not to endorse online meetings in the past, as of May 2020, Meetup is recommending that all events are hosted online due to health risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic? Try one of the best books on social anxiety for 2020!

If you are feeling vulnerable during this unprecedented situation or you have made progress with your condition that you would like to sustain, try finding an appropriate online social anxiety support group on Meetup.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

If you live in the US, NAMI can be a very useful resource for finding support. NAMI offers a variety of trainings, classes and social support groups for people living with mental illness, including social anxiety disorder. They have over a thousand offices and affiliates across the 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. 

NAMI began as an organization focusing on family support. Their programs can have a somewhat more formal character than other support groups listed on this page and might span a fixed amount of time. Their programs emphasise stress and anxiety management techniques, interactive exercises, group discussions and more. 

Generally, NAMI’s programs can be somewhat biased towards the biomedical model of mental illnesses, which means that they can be very much centered around explaining a condition as a product of the sum of its effects on the brain.

Related: Can Hypnotherapy Help for Social Anxiety?

If you are looking for a more traditional SAD support group, maybe take a look at the NAMI Connection program. These groups tend to meet weekly for about an hour and a half and their meetings are led by trained facilitators, often with a history of mental illness themselves. Having someone in the room who has overcome their anxiety partially or in full may be highly beneficial!

Some of its programs are also available in Spanish.

HealthfulChat

HealthfulChat is dedicated to providing medical and peer support to people living with mental illness. Their website does not offer specific social anxiety support but you are sure to find groups dedicated to this in their chat rooms. 

This can be a very good way to find support while maintaining physical distancing during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

One of the best features of HealthfulChat is that they aim to provide support to people with a variety of conditions– mental and otherwise, including major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, HIV/AIDS, infertility and others. Social support groups for social anxiety can be very helpful but they can also sometimes create the sense of being part of a bubble. Talking with someone who might be struggling with something very different but also very difficult can help you find acceptance and calm with someone who might superficially be very different from you. And, in turn, it will allow you to offer support to someone in need, which other than being good in itself can also help you with your own anxiety.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, social anxiety disorder can have profound effects on our mental wellbeing and everyone deserves a way out. Social support groups can be very effective. At meets you will likely discover people with a deep understanding of the resources that go into living with SAD, who might also feel anxious about speaking out, even during the group meet itself, but with whom you may be able to establish a sense of shared experience.

If you feel like you are not ready to join such a group, it’s probably not the right time. And even if you do, make sure to talk it through with your counselor. Support groups can be very effective but only at the right time and if approached with the right understanding of what you can expect from them.

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