Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a common anxiety disorder that affects many people. People with social anxiety have excessive and unreasonable fears before and during different social situations. With a social anxiety disorder, normal, everyday interactions may cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, self-consciousness and embarrassment. Individuals who suffer from social phobia may avoid certain social situations because of the overwhelming fear and anxiety that these situations may cause. The anxiety and emotional discomfort caused by a social anxiety disorder may interfere with daily routines, relationships, school or employment.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder may begin in childhood and can affect people both emotionally and physically. One common early sign is difficulty with separation and, for instance, leaving one's caregivers to head off to school. This continues later in life when one is invited to a 'play date,' tries to play a sport, and subsequently wishes to leave home for college. Any of these development milestones may arouse a great deal of anxiety and one way to feel better is to avoid participating in each of these activities. People with social anxiety disorders feel very nervous and anxious when they are around other people and may find it difficult to hold a conversation. They may worry for days or weeks in advance about events that they may have to interact with other people (for more information on this point refer to my article on narcissistic vulnerabilities by clicking here). Individuals suffering from social anxiety may also have an emotional fear of being judged, watched or embarrassed, which may lead to additional symptoms such as:
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea/upset stomach
Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder
Like other mental health conditions, the cause of social anxiety disorder is believed to be a result of a combination of environmental and psychological factors. Social anxiety disorders may run in families, however it is also believed that the link may not only be genetic, but possibly learned behavior passed on from a parent to a child. Not only is it passed on, I must add from my experience with these people, it is induced. In other words, it is not uncommon that people with a social anxiety disorder have learned from an early age that leaving home, separation, is both frowned upon, discouraged, and negatively reinforced. This typically happens because a significant caregiver (like a parent) has unresolved issues around and cannot tolerate the child's developing independence and autonomy. Individuals with a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse may be at a higher risk for developing a social anxiety disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Psychotherapy in the form of insight oriented therapy is the most effective treatment for social anxiety because it helps people better understand what is actually making them anxious. This allows patients to have more rational and reasonable thoughts about social situations. Exposure therapy and relaxation techniques may also be used to treat individuals with social anxiety disorder. In severe cases, antianxiety or antidepressant medication may be prescribed to treat patients who do not respond to therapy alone. Individuals with social anxiety may get short term relief and some benefit from practicing relaxation techniques on their own as well as keeping a journal to track their thoughts and feelings. It is helpful when they can bring these thoughts into session so we can closely examine where they are coming from, what they mean, and how they get so distorted. Alcohol and other drugs are frequently used to calm the anxiety but these substances may actually cause anxiety to worsen.