Social anxiety is a common problem that makes it difficult for people affected by it to feel comfortable in social situations. In fact, for some people, the disorder can be so severe that it becomes difficult to handle everyday activities such as a job or school, among others.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety, formerly known as social phobia, is a disorder in which a person has an intense fear of social situations. The anxiety does not necessarily occur in all social situations, although it can. However, these social situations will involve being observed by others, interacting with others, or performing in front of them, such as by giving a speech. Social anxiety causes people who have it to fear they will embarrass themselves due to their appearance or behavior. They are worried that people will have a negative opinion of them.
This condition often starts when someone is a teenager; in some cases, it will become less of a problem as the person ages. However, unfortunately, many people continue to have social anxiety and need treatment. If you do suffer from social anxiety disorder, you should get help, as there are effective treatments for this disorder.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
It is unknown exactly what causes social anxiety disorder. It seems to be caused by a mix of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. People who have a relative with social anxiety disorder are more likely to develop the condition. A study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that although environmental factors have a larger effect in the short term, genetic factors have a strong effect over the long term. It is not yet known what genetic makeup is associated with the condition. However, research is being conducted into a gene associated with the transport of serotonin. Biology can also be a factor in developing this condition.
Some people have a brain structure or chemistry that can make them more prone to developing social anxiety disorder. A person’s environment can also make them more likely to develop the disorder. Negative experiences with peers, traumatic experiences, domestic violence, or negative parenting, among others, can make the disorder more likely. If parents are very controlling, overly critical, or reluctant to show affection, it can hurt the self-image of the child.
What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety?
It is quite common for some people to feel nervous, shy, or uncomfortable in some social situations. People with certain types of personalities can be more prone to this discomfort than others. Additionally, young children are more likely to be shy. But social anxiety disorder is different. Individuals with social anxiety disorder have much higher levels of fear and anxiety than is typical. Furthermore, social anxiety disorder can cause people to avoid social situations to the point that it interferes with their daily lives.
People with social anxiety disorder exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, and here are some of them.
- Fearing one or more social situations in which the person might be observed by others, such as parties or meetings
- Feeling intense anxiety when in social situations
- Being afraid of embarrassing themselves
- Sweating, excessive blushing, palpitations, or trembling
- Having difficulty engaging in activities while being watched or feeling like someone is always watching
- Worrying about participating in daily activities, such as work, school, shopping, talking on the phone, etc.
- Not going places or talking to people for fear of being embarrassed
- Feeling anxiety before an upcoming event
- Worrying that people will notice your fear in a social situation
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Most people with social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated, so it is important to get help. People with this disorder are commonly treated through psychotherapy and medication. Support groups and social skills training have also been found to help.
One type of psychotherapy frequently used to treat social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy tries to teach people a different way to think or behave that will help them feel less anxious in social situations. One CBT method is exposure therapy. In this therapy, a patient gradually confronts their fears so they hopefully become able to participate in social situations they had previously avoided. Another type of therapy being used for this disorder is acceptance and commitment therapy, which has individuals participate in mindfulness and goal-setting to help them be less anxious and uncomfortable.
Sometimes, medications are used to treat social anxiety disorder. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers may be effective. However, a doctor will need to help decide if medication is needed and which medication is best depending on the individual’s situation. Sometimes, a physician will recommend both psychotherapy and medication. Both of these treatments can take time, and a doctor may try different treatments if a treatment does not seem to be working.
Support groups can be very helpful in addition to other treatments. Talking with other people with the same disorder can help you see how others try to deal with it. These people can also help you see if you have an unrealistic view of how other people perceive you. However, if group members give you advice, it is important to ask your doctor before using it and not to discontinue any treatment from your doctor.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training is a form of behavioral therapy often used to help people with social anxiety disorder. Social skills training can help people who lack some social skills develop the skills necessary to feel less anxious in social situations. This type of behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective. However, according to a study published on the ScienceDirect website, it is more effective when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.