Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is sometimes referred to as social phobia.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Social phobia is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed.”
People who suffer from this disorder may worry and panic about minor social encounters, like going grocery shopping alone or having to ask a waiter a question at a restaurant. For bigger social events, an individual may be overcome with physical symptoms that would prohibit them from participating or even leaving the house.
Shaking, sweating, nausea, and increased heart rate are a few common physical symptoms that may occur.
It is a chronic mental health illness, which can have a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. This disorder can manifest differently in people, but regardless of the level, SAD it is a form of extreme shyness.
Origins of SAD may develop from a combination of things, including genetic factors, brain chemistry, personal history, life events, and environmental factors. And similar to how there is a major difference between having a case of the blues and a depressive disorder, there is a huge difference between being shy and suffering from social anxiety disorder.
Let’s take a closer look.
Symptoms of SAD
It is different from shyness, because SAD is often paralyzing for an individual. People suffering from the disorder fear being judged in social settings or during performances to the point where they may experience panic attacks or develop agoraphobia.
This disorder is characterized by an individual’s persistent and crushing fear of social situations. If forced in particular settings, sufferers may start blushing, sweating, trembling, or even experience chest pain or nausea. This disorder can be problematic because it can severely hinder people from living their lives. SAD can affect the ability to work, attend school, or participate in activities of any kind. It can also affect potential friendships, familial connections, intimate relationships, or any other aspect of a person’s social life.
It can affect both men and women of all ages. SAD often starts during the later phases of childhood. Persistent symptoms of six months or longer will usually lead to a diagnosis. According to studies, “About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder.” Symptoms usually start at around age thirteen, although, people will wait years before finding help for their disorder.
How Is It Treated?
In today’s extrovert centered landscape, social anxiety disorder can be even more problematic to work through.
Exacerbated pressure to conform to societal norms can further harm people. Shyness may become more intense when it gets intensified and labeled as something shameful, bad, or weak. If you experience anxiety regularly, you may want to consider exploring the anxiety treatment options available. Anxiety occurs for different reasons, so you should also evaluate what triggers anxiety so you can approach treatment more effectively. For example, exploring social anxiety treatment may be more helpful than exploring generalized anxiety treatment or panic disorder treatment. Regardless of what form anxiety appears, it’s worth it to explore your options and relieve the paralyzing symptoms and combat the stigma that surrounds this disorder.
Psychotherapy is one of the most effective and long-lasting methods that can improve social anxiety disorder. Depending on the therapist or treatment center, different kinds of therapeutic modalities can help.
Therapists sometimes use a treatment approach known as brief exposure therapy (developed by Isaac Marks) under the right circumstances.
“The patient has to be persistently avoiding situations which trigger discomfort. Second, the patient needs to be able to specify, after discussion with the therapist, clearly attainable goals.” It has varying approaches, where either the patient is briefly exposed to a triggering event, imagines a triggering event, or confronts social anxiety symptoms (like increased heart rate or chest pain).
This therapeutic approach may not be ideal for certain patients.
This therapy exposes you to triggering and often frightening situations, which may be unbearable for patients with severe symptoms. The idea of this type of therapy is to expose the patient to mild anxiety as a way to work towards long lasting healing. When patients are exposed, they realize it is not as bad as they imagined and that symptoms can be managed. This behavioral approach is largely self-managed and results in a sense of empowerment, if treatment is successful.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Social Anxiety Disorder
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and successful treatment methods for SAD. When therapists use this approach, they help patients understand the core elements of social anxiety and their own triggers. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) also helps uncover negative and incorrect thoughts, in addition to changing them. Therapists can change behaviors through talk therapy or exercises where patients talk or write down the negative thoughts they associate with their social fears. They then challenge them by writing down reasons why their thoughts are untrue.
For instance, people sometimes think, I don’t want to speak in meetings because people will make fun of me. The therapist would then have the patient list their positive attributes that would disprove that notion, like friendships within the office, time employed there, or successful projects completed. The exercise proves, through concrete evidence, why the patient’s negative thoughts are incorrect. CBT also works to find alternative healthy coping mechanisms to minimize social anxiety.
If symptoms of SAD are severe, they may result in a panic disorder, chest pain, nausea, or shaking. Medication may be prescribed to help ease the dangerous physical manifestations of the disorder. Antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are used for ongoing symptoms of social anxiety. Additionally, physicians may prescribe a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), like venlafaxine, to curb more intense elements of this disorder. Medication is given only at the discretion of a practicing physician.
You Are Not Alone
Everyone has moments of insecurity, which may magnify depending on the situation they are in. Statistics show that as many as fifteen million people in the United States suffer from this. While it may feel overpowering, you must not let it consume you. Seek out the support of a trusted individual like a compassionate mental health practitioner.
And in addition to common methods of treatment like psychotherapy, wellness activities, like eco-therapy, yoga, mediation, or mindfulness training may also help. These methods can calm the more severe aspects of this disorder. When used in partnership with support systems and regular therapy, this disorder can be managed and will not control your life. You are not alone.