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What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder after Specific Phobia. It is estimated that about 15 million American adults are diagnosed with it and that it may start at the age of 13.

Social Anxiety Disorder is the fear of socially interacting with other people and being afraid of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. Unfortunately, sometimes this anxiety is misunderstood with shyness. However, shyness is usually short-term, but social anxiety is persistent and can be debilitating. Individuals with this disorder often fear certain or all situations such as meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, shopping, answering a question in class, or eating in front of other people. When exposed to social situations and having to interact with others, they usually get anxious and they become afraid. Individuals become nervous, their heart begins to race, they blush, sweat, and/or their throat and mouth may dry due to the fear and anxiety they experience when in social situations. The fear that they have of interacting with others does not allow them to engage in daily life activities such as going to work or school.

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

It is not clear how such disorder is developed. However, it is thought that is may be due to genetics or learned behavior. If an individual had an unpleasant or embarrassing situation, they may develop such condition afterward or it may be due to the learned behavior from the parents. Furthermore, negative experiences such as family conflict, sexual abuse or bullying may trigger the condition.

Now, what are some of the symptoms?

  • Being afraid of being judged
  • Constantly worrying about humiliating yourself
  • Avoid engaging in activities that involve interacting with others
  • Intense fear of meeting new people (strangers)
  • Expect the worst possible consequences out of a negative experience
  • Over analyzing ones’ performance when interacting with others
  • Afraid of others noticing your physical symptoms such as blushing, trembling, dizziness or sweating

Does this mean they cannot interact with other people?

No. Individuals may seek therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy to help change their thoughts, beliefs, behavior, and feelings. Through cognitive-behavioral therapy both the individual and the therapist, are able to identify what type of social situations are provoking the anxiety and may then engage in exposure therapy, social skills training, cognitive reconstructing, symptom management skills, or even psychodynamic therapy. Furthermore, some individuals may take prescribed antidepressants to reduce any related anxiety or depression.

However, unfortunately not many individuals seek professional help possibly because they perceive it as a sign of weakness, for financial reasons, it doesn’t fit in their schedule or think it will go away through time. However, it is important to seek the help if needed. For example, one can begin by asking if the therapists offer after-hours, plan appointments ahead of time, explain your situation to a mental health professional and they may help guide to as to what is best for you, or you may want to ask a friend to help guide you there so that you are not alone. You are seeking professional help for your own well-being, not for the well-being of others.