Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a chronic form of anxiety which plagues many people, and is currently the third most experienced anxiety disorder in the US. Explained as an irrational fear of being in social situations, social anxiety can prevent sufferers from developing normal relationships, keep them from participating in activities and basically enjoying a normal life. Because of a constant fear of not fitting in, or embarrassing themselves, people with this disorder tend to be very anti-social, spending most of their time alone, or with only a specific few, trusted individuals.
Shyness or Social Anxiety Disorder?
It is very natural for people to be shy at times. Shyness is a normal emotion experienced by normal, healthy people of all ages, from very small children, all the way through adulthood. It can be a good emotion to experience, too; in a way, shyness acts as a bit of a safeguard to keep us humble, and keep us on our toes in situations such as receiving compliments or being around someone we are attracted to, allowing us to create deeper bonds with people as a result.
However, shyness that goes to extremes, making it impossible for a person to do things such as make eye contact with someone else or freely speak to them, is no longer just shyness. When this exaggerated “shyness” progresses to behaviors such as avoiding social situations altogether, then it becomes social phobia. In worse cases, sufferers can experience the typical symptoms of anxiety if they are forced into social situations. There is frequently racing of the heart, sweating, stuttering, nervousness, fast breathing, nausea and diarrhea, and other symptoms.
This irrational phobia causes sufferers to constantly worry about embarrassing themselves by doing or saying the wrong thing, or simply not fitting into a certain group of people. Actions such as eating or drinking in public, speaking to groups, going on dates, being the center of attention for whatever the reason, having to use public restrooms, and asking questions become almost impossible, eliciting many anxiety symptoms. Even talking on the telephone is a known trigger for those suffering from severe social anxiety, with texting and email a much more preferred method of communication. All of this affects a person’s ability to lead a normal life, and can be accompanied by other psychological conditions such as depression, low self esteem and others.
Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
Anyone whose fears of interacting with others, or of social situations has prevented them from doing things is experiencing social phobia and should look into treatment for it. Humans, by our very nature, are at least semi-social creatures, so being able to right this can be extremely helpful to aid sufferers in regaining a normal, productive lifestyle.
Social anxiety is detectable in individuals – with a higher prevalence in females – from very early on, sometimes as young as only a few years of age; the typical onset is in early teenhood, however. Most people endure the condition for ten years or more before they are diagnosed and begin any kind of therapy, too, which can be devastating when happening throughout the teen and young adult years. There is also a high percentage of sufferers who do not get diagnosed at all, and continue to suffer. Therefore, it is important for either sufferers themselves, or the people around them, to take the symptoms of social anxiety seriously.
The two main ways in which social anxiety disorders are treated are with psychotherapy, and with medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most widely used therapy in training people to overcome their social anxiety in teaching them to change their thoughts when they begin to feel their anxiety kicking in. It is frequently combined with exposure therapy, where repeated exposure to triggers is used to help condition the sufferer’s reaction. These types of therapy can be ongoing as needed, depending on the individual and any other anxiety disorders they may also be dealing with.
In treating social anxiety with medications, anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs are typically tried, along with some CBT. Both beta-blockers and MAO-inhibitors are generally used to aid in reducing social phobia, but each person’s reaction will differ, so it is impossible to say that one drug specifically will be the right one.
Practicing other anxiety reduction techniques, as well as self-help methods which can be researched can all help as well, whether used in combination with medications or on their own. The most important thing to remember is that social anxiety disorder is treatable, and it is possible for sufferers to lead normal, social lives with treatment.