Social Anxiety Disorder

Almost everyone can feel some degree of discomfort in a given social situation. However, when you feel extreme fear of social encounters and it begins to interfere with your daily functioning, you have social anxiety disorder. There are two types of this disorder.

  • If you have the first type, you are extremely anxious in only a few specific situations. For instance, you become anxious when answering a question out loud in class or presenting at work.

  • If you have the second type, you experience overwhelming worry in most or all social experiences. This may include everything from going to a doctor's appointment, to eating in a restaurant, to entering a crowded room.

When this disorder happens in very young children, it may be from a new babysitter or stranger that the child is not used to. In the very young it may show up as crying, tantrums, or withdrawal.

Most adults with social anxiety were shy and timid as children. If left untreated, these adults may appear quiet and passive in social situations. They may be highly sensitive to the criticism and disapproval of others. They may have no close friends outside of first degree relatives. They may be fearful of saying or doing something foolish or becoming emotional in front of others. As a result of these fears, they may avoid most social encounters and select jobs and personal activities that allow them to isolate themselves from others.

CAUSES

This disorder can result from the combination of several factors.

  • Your genetic makeup affects how sensitive you are and how much stress you can tolerate.

  • How you were raised as a child also plays a part. Research suggests that children raised with overprotective parents, excessive expectations, overly critical parents, low assertiveness, and/or emotional insecurity have increased feelings of anxiety.

  • A traumatic life event can also contribute to social anxiety; for example, being pointed out and shamed in public or being repeatedly bullied.

SYMPTOMS

This disorder is characterized by a fear of social situations. The anxiety is marked by:

  • Apprehension.

  • Nervousness.

  • A feeling of unease, worry, or tension.

Anxiety may also be reflected in:

  • Blushing.

  • Restlessness.

  • Trembling.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Sweating.

  • Muscle tics and twitches.

At higher levels of anxiety, there also may be:

  • Increased heart rate.

  • A rise in blood pressure.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Muscle tension.

Experiencing these uncomfortable symptoms often enough can cause a person to avoid social situations. This can cause many problems in the anxiety sufferer's life.

TREATMENT

There are many types of treatment available for social anxiety disorder.

  • Group therapy allows you to see that you are not alone with these problems.

  • Individual therapy helps you address anxiety issues with a caring professional.

  • Relaxation techniques may be used as tools to help you overcome fear.

  • Hypnosis may help change the way you think about social settings.

  • Numerous medications are available that your caregiver can prescribe to help during a difficult time. Medications can be used for a brief period of time. The goal of this treatment is to help recondition you so that once you quit taking the medications, your anxiety will not return.

PROGNOSIS

Social anxiety disorder is a common problem that is very treatable. Individuals who participate in treatment have a very high success rate. When treated properly, the prognosis is very good to excellent.