People with social anxiety disorders feel shy or scared during social situations. They experience overwhelming fears that disrupt their ability to enjoy life.
What Are Social Anxiety Disorders?
Social anxiety disorders are phobias in which a person fears social situations. These fears are more excessive then what would be expected in that particular situation. Furthermore, a person suffering from a social anxiety disorder goes to great lengths to avoid the anxiety-provoking social situation. For example, it is normal for a child to be fearful of the first day of school. However, children with social anxiety disorders may make themselves ill to avoid going to school.
People with social anxiety disorders are constantly worried or anxious that they will be humiliated or embarrassed in social situations. They illogically believe that others are judging them or watching them. It is also common for people with social anxiety disorders to have thoughts, which predict the future in the worst possible ways. For example, a man may predict that everyone will start laughing at him if he speaks up at a business meeting. With social anxiety disorder, there are no realistic grounds for these predictions, like a history of getting laughed at in business meetings.
Social anxiety disorders can be broken into two groups: generalized and non-generalized social anxiety disorder. With generalized social anxiety disorder, you fear all or most social situations. With non-generalized social anxiety disorder, you fear specific types of social situations, such as eating in public. With non-generalized social anxiety disorders, symptoms may only be present during the correlating specific social situation.
Common Situations That Can Trigger Anxiety Disorders:
- Eating in public places.
- Social interactions, such as dates with the opposite sex or parties.
- Using public restrooms.
- Speaking on the phone.
- Being the center of attention.
How Common are Social Anxiety Disorders?
Social anxiety is one of the most common psychological disorders. Only major depression, alcoholism, and specific phobias are more common than social anxiety disorder. One survey which assessed more than 9,000 Americans, who were not institutionalized, found that approximately 12 percent individuals suffer from a social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Other studies show that social anxiety disorder is not as prevalent, affecting approximately 4 percent of Americans. In any case, social anxiety disorder episodes are not uncommon amongst the general population.
Unfortunately, most cases of social anxiety disorder go undiagnosed and untreated. When social anxiety disorder is brought to the attention of a medical professional, it is usually because there is another psychological disorder present as well.
What Symptoms are Associated with Social Anxiety Disorders?
- Feeling incredibly anxious in social situations
- Going to great lengths to avoid social situations
- Experiencing perspiration, rapid heartbeats, tremors, tense muscles, dyspepsia and/or confusion during social events
- Being unable to make eye contact with others
- Having trouble speaking in social situations
- Experiencing anxiety-related symptoms when your daily routine is disrupted
People with social anxiety disorder may also worry excessively about their symptoms. The fear of symptoms may become greater than the fear of the actual social situation, thus, you may avoid a social situation not because you fear it, but because you fear that a panic attack will occur in certain situations. There are some lifestyle markers associated with social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder are less likely to be married than other people in their age group and background. They are also more likely to work jobs which are below their educational level.
When to Seek Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorders?
It is normal for people to experience some degree of fear in social situations, such as public speaking. However, these fears should not interrupt one’s life. If the social fear becomes very severe, presents physical symptoms, or is causing disruption to your life, then it is time to seek treatment from a trained professional doctor or counselor.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorders?
Social anxiety typically begins during childhood and progresses into adulthood. There are several possible causes of social anxiety disorders including:
- Personal Traumas: Children who experienced traumas, such as being bullied or ridiculed at school, are more likely to develop social anxiety disorder. Other traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, can lead to a social anxiety disorder.
- Chemical Imbalances: A chemical imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters can cause a social anxiety disorder.
- Overactive Brain: A part of the brain called amygdale is thought to be responsible for feelings of fear. If the amygdale is overactive, then it can cause a social anxiety disorder.
- Family Factors: Studies show that people with social anxiety disorder are also likely to have a family member with the disorder. Research suggests that the disorder is inherited, but other studies indicate that the trait is learned.
How Are Social Anxiety Disorders Treated?
Social anxiety disorder is most commonly treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy. This method has shown to be very effective in treatment. The cognitive aspects of therapy aim to challenge your thought process and teach you how to identify fears that are not rational. You may also be encouraged to explore how your irrational fears are negatively impacting your life.
The behavioral therapy approach is usually systematic and broken down into distinct parts complete with goals. For example, the first part of behavior therapy for a social anxiety disorder is learning relaxation techniques, which can be utilized in social settings. Then, you may be slowly introduced to social settings in a controlled, step-by-step manner. This process is known as systematic desensitization and it has proven very effective for phobias, including social anxiety disorders. Behavioral therapy often involves skill training, such as learning social skills that aid in effective social interactions.
If a psychiatrist suspects that the social anxiety disorder is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, then prescribed medications may also be used as part of treatment. In cases where the physical symptoms of a social anxiety disorder are severe, a doctor may recommend tranquilizers or beta blockers.
Schneier, F. R. (2006). Social anxiety disorder. New England Journal of Medicine.
Turk, C., Heimberg, R. G. & Magee, L. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder. Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders.