We all get anxious and fearful at one point or another in our lives; there have been situations in which we felt extremely uncomfortable and distressed. However, when that starts happening a lot, social anxiety disorder might be the case.
People with social phobia may have few or no relationships at all, which makes them susceptible to loneliness more than others.
About 15 million people in the United States have anxiety when being in public places and more than 30% of them have experienced the symptoms for long periods of time. These people are not strangers; anyone of them might be your friend, your sibling, or even one of your children…
What is a social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (aka social phobia) is basically the excessive and unreasonable fear of being the focus of other people. In other words, a person with this kind of disorder might go intensely nervous and too self-conscientious from the fear of being closely watched, criticized or judged by other people.
Making mistakes, looking bad, getting embarrassed or humiliated in public are some of the most stressful and scaring social situations someone a person with the problem faces daily. People with this kind of disorder might be afraid of doing common and regular things in public like drinking and eating.
Sometimes and as a result of the fear, a person might avoid any possible stressful situation or endure it in extreme distress.
A socially anxious person might realize that any stressful situation doesn’t have to be stressful at all and that the fear is completely unreasonable, however, they cannot help the bad feeling that comes along with it; they’re basically unable to overcome it.
Some people suffer from anticipatory anxiety; it’s the fear of a situation for days or weeks before it even happens. And although most people fear more than one situation—which we call generalized phobia—, some people may get anxious about specific situations.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms aren’t all noticeable as they develop bit by bit, and they’re numerous. Anyway, a person with social anxiety may tend to:
- avoid public places
- blush and tremble around others
- sweat and shake during stressful situations
- worry often and intensely
- experience stomach ache and diarrhea
- feel a muscle tension
- get nervous a lot
- feel dizzy or faint
- feel tightness in the chest
- hiding in backgrounds in order to escape notice
What causes social phobia?
Social phobia might be caused by various things; researchers are still looking for more accurate reasons thanks to a number of trials and studies. However, there are main factors that are related to the development of such fear when being social.
Biology: Studies have proven that parts of the brain are responsible for feelings of fear and anxiety, so it might be related an abnormal brain functioning.
Genetics: The possibilities of having fear of social interaction are more likely to rise if a first-degree relative like a parent or sibling already has it.
Temperament: Clingy behavior and shyness are major factors in turning a child or adolescent timider and socially inhibited person which puts him at the risk of developing social phobia.
Environment: Public humiliation, mistreatment, and bullying can lead to developing the fear of being in public places. In addition to that, children who are overprotected by their parents or families and those who witness uncomfortable situations that happened with others may also develop the same problem.
When and how social fear disorder is diagnosed?
Social phobia can show or start during youth, so diagnosis can happen at a very young age. A doctor will tell if a person suffers from social anxiety disorder if he or she experienced the symptoms and signs for at least 6 months.
At first, the doctor will check the person’s medical history and perform a few essential tests and physical exams. When no physical illnesses are found, the person will be directed to a mental health professional who’s going to determine later if the symptoms shown are linked to social phobia.
Are there any common triggers to anxiety?
There are actually many situations that provoke anxiety, In other words, there are situations that stimulate fear. These triggers are so many, but some are listed below:
- being the center of attention
- public speaking
- being teased and criticized
- talking on the phone in public
- using toilet paper
- eating/drinking in public
- attending social events
- group work/projects
- being asked or asking a question
Is everybody prone to social fear?
As we mentioned before, a large part of the American society develops this kind of disorder, men and women, most commonly at young stages of life (childhood and early adolescence). But, that doesn’t neglect the fact that anxiety can occur at any time.
Actually, social phobia has been classified as the second most common anxiety disorder in the United States, so yes… Anyone could have it.
Can that be linked to other mental illnesses?
Actually, a large number of people may experience other mental illnesses along with social anxiety disorder. Depression, panic disorder, and even OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) can be directly linked to being in an uncomfortable situation when being with others.
What are the kinds of treatment a person could get?
There are two different kinds of treatment that doctors use to treat their patients. It’s whether CBT (cognitive-behavior therapy) or medication (drugs).
CBT (cognitive-behavior therapy): CBT is a type of psychotherapy through which a patient is thought different ways of thinking and behaving and the right ways to act and react. CBT tends to guide a person’s thoughts in a rational direction which is going to help him in the long term with facing stressful situations.
Medication: In this case, a doctor would prescribe a drug to the patient. Such medications are usually anti-depressants or anti-anxiety. These drugs are known to be helpful and effective; however, they should not be used for long periods of time. Otherwise, the patient will experience unpleasant results.
How to overcome it?
If you’re social anxiety suffers or knows someone with the same problem, then don’t worry about it… There is always hope for a better life, and the chances of overcoming such disorders are quite high. Nevertheless, there are a few things you should do in order to make it.
Challenge negativity: When you start to think about negative things like “I know I’m going to be laughed at” or “they’re going to yell at me or get mad at me” try to replace that negative thought with more optimistic and realistic suggestions.
Stop personalizing: Try not to personalize each situation you observe, this means stop assuming that what’s ever going wrong with other people has to do with you.
Take control over your breath: Learn how to slow your breathing in bad situations by doing breathing exercises. It will help you relax more and control your anxiety physical symptoms better.
Try to make relationships: Participating in activities like volunteering in doing something you like may help you get a more positive impression on social relationships and overcome your fear.
Stop mind reading: Don’t assume you know what’s in people’s’ minds, the negative thought or image you have on yourself is just something you and only you see.
Is group therapy a good idea?
If you are looking for help in overcoming social phobia, group therapy is a very good idea, however, any individual who’s considering joining a therapy group must do it after his own will and without any kind of pressure, otherwise, no improvements will be made.