Thank you for the background, and for your patience for my response. As you can imagine, the weekends can take longer to get an answer due to the limited number of experts available. We also prioritize answers according to the level of urgency indicated by the customer. I didn't want you to think I was ignoring you.
I do understand your frustration with your anxiety and am so sorry to hear you're having this difficulty. Although no one can offer a formal diagnosis in a forum such as this, I can say that you may be suffering from social phobia, formerly known as social anxiety. The official criteria are as follows:
A. A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing.
B. Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed panic attack.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
D. The feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
Does this sound like you?
The most effective therapeutic treatment for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral (CBT) psychotherapy. Alone or combined with medication it has a roughly 80% success rate in the literature. The CBT model is based upon the concept that our feelings emanate from our thoughts. It holds that conditions like depression are based on distorted thinking patterns. By definition, these distorted thought patterns tend to be negative and unrealistic. Therefore, this brief, time-limited therapy focuses on helping you exchange anxious thoughts for more positive and realistic thoughts. This can help greatly reduce your social phobia. Aside from changing thoughts, there are specific behavioral techniques that can be tailored to suit your particular presentation.
I would like for you to try a simple yet effective breathing technique when you are in a situation in which you feel anxious. Slowly breathe in through your nose while counting off four seconds, then hold for another four seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth for yet four more seconds. Repeat this exercise at least three times, but do it as much as you need until you can safely say your anxiety level has reached about 2 or less on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the most severe).
You can also start monitoring your thoughts when you are feeling anxious. Simply carry a piece of paper or notebook with you. Whenever you start feeling anxious in these situations, write down what you were thinking about just before your anxiety level rose. Also, rate how strong your anxious feelings were on the above scale of 1 to 10. Later, when you are not anxious, look at your notes. Ask yourself if the thoughts were realistic assessments of the situation. Were you catastrophizing (blowing things way out of proportion), jumping to conclusions (especially about what other people are thinking), overestimating the dangers of a situation or focusing so much on danger that you ignored the positive aspects of the situation? If you were, then write out more positive, realistic thoughts about the situation that would make you feel less anxious. Whenever your same anxious thoughts start to surface, stop and replace them with your new, positive thoughts.
These are two techniques borrowed from CBT.
Finally, I would like to recommend a self-help book if you can't or don't want to engage in psychotherapy, or as an adjunct to therapy. It is titled Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques and is available here. It has been helpful to many people and I think you would find it useful.
Have I answered your question completely? If so, please remember to click the Accept button and leave your feedback for me. If not, please let me know what information would improve it. Should you have additional questions in the future, you may always contact me here at Just Answer. And again, thank you for your patience this weekend.