Experiencing some level of anxiousness before going on stage or presenting during a meeting is usually considered normal. But when this anxiousness starts bordering on fear, you might have social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety can interfere significantly with your daily routines, job performance, or social life, making it difficult to perform well at school and interviews. Even having friendships and romantic relationships can be tough.
Most people with social anxiety do not think of it as a disorder and do not seek help. About 15 million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder.1 However, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder wait for 10 or more years before seeking help. Hence it’s important to know more about social anxiety disorder so that you can seek help.
People with social anxiety disorder have an extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations. They are afraid that they will make mistakes which could lead to embarrassment or humiliation in front of others. They also suffer from distorted thinking and imagine worst-case scenarios that result in negative opinions about other people.
Social anxiety is different from feeling shy. Shyness is usually short-term and doesn’t disrupt your life. A person with social anxiety disorder tries and avoids social situations if possible or may experience extreme distress during certain situations. The anxiety could also lead to a panic attack. Here are some of the symptoms you might find in someone with social anxiety disorder.
- excessive sweating
- trembling or shaking
- difficulty speaking
- rapid heart rate
Social anxiety disorder has a direct impact on your daily life. It could affect normal daily situations like going to work and talking to clients, meeting with friends, attending a wedding, or having a relationship. This makes is very difficult for a person with social anxiety disorder to have a normal life. Other situations that commonly provoke anxiety include the following.2
- Eating or drinking in front of others
- Writing or working in front of others
- Being the center of attention
- Asking questions or giving reports in groups
- Using public toilets
- Talking on the telephone
People with social anxiety disorder feel that they are powerless against their anxiety. During certain situation, they are terrified they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.
Social anxiety disorder is equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13. It could be difficult to pinpoint a single cause but like most mental disorders, the cause could be an combination of environmental factors and genes.
- Heredity: Anxiety disorders have a tendency to run in the family. However, there is no conclusive research to determine if it’s due to genetics or because of learned behavior.
- Brain Structure: Studies have shown that a structure in the brain called the amygdala may play a role in controlling the fear response.3 People who have an overactive amygdala may have a heightened fear response, causing increased anxiety in social situations.
- Environmental: It’s possible that social anxiety disorder may be a learned behavior. Seeing someone else in an embarrassing situation may develop a fear in you about being in such a situation. Lack of social skills can also add to the anxiety.
Fortunately, social anxiety disorder is treatable and can be controlled to a large extent. There are several types of treatments available and like most mental heath treatments, the results differ from person to person. If you think you have social anxiety, have talk to your doctor or find a therapist who can help you. Here’s a list of some popular treatments.
- Cognitive-behavior therapy: This therapy teaches you to react differently to situations that cause anxiety and helps you to stop avoiding situations where you anticipate anxiety. It may include desensitization but asking you to imagine a situation that makes you anxious and working with you through the fears in a safe and relaxed environment.
- Medication: There are many Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs that can be prescribed to treat social anxiety disorder. They include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines. Your doctor may start you on a low dose to find out which one works best for you.
- Group therapy: This therapy involves working with a group of people to learn social skills and techniques to interact with people in social settings. Usually, the group has people with similar fears and may make you feel less alone.
Social anxiety disorder is more than just feeling awkward or shy in social situations. For a person living with it, normal life situations can become stressful while inducing unwanted fear and anxiety. If you find yourself anxious to the point of avoiding certain situation, talk yo your doctor or a certified therapist about finding ways to treat and overcome social anxiety.