Do you feel extremely uncomfortable in certain social situations?
It is normal to feel shy or nervous on occasions like when giving an interview or speech. But a social phobia is more than that.
Social anxiety (social phobia) disorder involves intense fear in certain social gatherings - especially in unfamiliar situations. These situations can be so frightening that the person may get nervous even just thinking about them.
Social phobia affects more than 15 million Americans and is the second most common mental disorder. Refer to this article and learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and self-help for social anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is basically the fear of being embarrassed in public or being judged by people. As said above, it is okay to feel nervous or uncomfortable in some specific situations. However, in social anxiety disorder (social phobia), day-to-day interactions can cause extreme fear because you feel being judged by others.
Out of all mental disorders, social phobia is common in which fear and anxiety result in avoidance that affects your life. It can eventually disrupt your daily routine, school, work, and other activities.
It is a serious mental health condition that you can cope up with through psychotherapy and proper medications. These treatments can help you build self-confidence and improve your ability to communicate with others.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association is a tool that health providers use to find out whether a person meets the criteria of different mental disorders. It helps them to make the correct diagnosis.
What are the Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder?
The exact cause of social anxiety disorder is not known yet. But like many other mental disorders, it is believed that biological reasons and environmental factors can contribute to this condition.
The following are the possible reasons for social phobia.
Anxiety disorder runs in families. However, it is still not clear how much it is because of genetics.
Amygdala is a structure in the base of the brain that may control the fear response. People who have an excessively active Amygdala may have a high fear response that causes anxiety in social situations.
Social phobia may be because of some environmental factors. Some people may develop this condition after an embarrassing or traumatic situation such as family conflict, bullying, and sexual abuse. There might be a connection between social phobia and parents who model this behavior in social situations of their children.
By examining more about fear and anxiety, health professionals may be able to come up with better treatments.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Feeling shy or uncomfortable in certain situations may not be the reason for social anxiety disorder, especially in children. Social Phobia symptoms levels may vary and it completely depends on the personality traits and life experiences.
Some people have a reserved nature and do not open up easily while others are outgoing. In comparison to everyday nervousness, social phobia includes fear and anxiety that lead to avoidance and affect everyday activities.
Social phobia usually starts in the early and mid-teenage. It can sometimes start in children and in adults. The most common symptom of social phobia includes physical and psychological symptoms.
Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Physical symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:
- Heart beating so fast
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling that your mind goes blank
These symptoms can cause further and more extreme anxiety as the person fears what others will notice. Although, these signs are not easily noticeable to other people.
People with social phobia also worry a lot about what they will do or say will be judged by other people. They also avoid such situations that can turn up into something embarrassing or humiliating.
If any such situation is not avoidable, they can become very anxious and stressed. And if endured they may try to depart from the situation as soon as they can. So, this behavior can negatively affect their personal and professional lives. And it also affects their ability to go on with everyday activities.
Emotional & Behavioral Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:
- Fear of situations in which you might be judged by other people.
- Fear of interacting with new people.
- Constant worrying about embarrassing yourself.
- Fear that other people will notice that you look nervous.
- Avoiding certain situations in which you are the center of attention.
- Fear of physical symptoms that can cause embarrassment.
- Avoiding doing certain things or speaking to people because of the fear of embarrassment.
- After a social situation, thinking about how you have performed and pointing out the flaws in your interactions.
- Expecting the worst outcome from a negative experience.
In children, the symptoms may be shown by crying, refusing to speak, or clinging to parents in social situations and gatherings.
Performance type of social phobia is when you feel extreme fear during performing or even speaking in public. But it usually does not happen in other situations.
Normal everyday situations that are not easy to endure when you are struggling with social phobia include:
- Interacting with strangers
- Going to school or work
- Attending social gatherings
- Returning items to store
- Eating or performing in front of others
- Starting conversations
- Entering a room with other people in it
The symptoms of social phobia may change with time. They may outburst if you are facing extreme stress during the current time. Avoiding such situations may help you feel better during some time. But your fear and anxiety are likely to continue in the long run if you don’t get proper treatment.
What Happens When Someone has Social Anxiety Disorder?
Intense feelings of self-consciousness or shyness may add up into an extreme feeling of fear. A person may feel extremely uncomfortable and stressed in everyday social situations.
Usually, people with social anxiety disorder easily interact with close friends and family members. But speaking in public or talking with strangers can cause shyness may come into effect.
With this condition, a person’s shyness, fear of embarrassment, and self-consciousness get in the way of life. So, instead of having fun in social gatherings, people with this condition might feel worried and avoid them altogether.
Social anxiety disorder prevents a person from living a normal life. People struggling with this condition usually avoid situations that are ‘normal’ for most people. They have a hard time understanding how other people can handle such situations so easily.
Social Anxiety Disorder: What are the Risk Factors?
There are certain factors that can increase the chances of developing social phobia. These includes:
There are high chances of developing this condition if you have a family history of social phobia.
Children who face teasing, bullying, rejection at a very young age may be more prone to social phobia. Other bad events in life such as trauma, family issues, or abuse may be connected with a social phobia.
Children who are reserved, shy, and restrained particularly when meeting new people are at higher risk.
The social phobia symptoms usually start in the early teenage. But meeting new people or speaking in public may trigger the symptoms of social phobia for the first time.
Having an appearance that captures attention
The feelings of self-consciousness may start the symptoms of social phobia in some people. For instance, tremors, facial disfigurement, stuttering due to Parkinson’s disease can be the reason for such feelings.
What are the Complications of Social Anxiety Disorder?
If a social anxiety disorder is not treated, it can affect your life in the long run. Fear and anxieties can affect school, work, relationships, and enjoyment of life.
Social phobia or a social anxiety disorder can cause the following complications.
- Low self-esteem
- Hypersensitivity to negative comments
- Poor social skills
- Negative self-talk
- Low academic achievement
- Difficult social relationships
- Substance abuse
- Low employment achievement
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
Other mental health-related issues such as major depression and substance abuse problems can occur with social phobia.
Social phobia does not have to control your life. Although, it may take weeks or months for treating the symptoms and feeling better and more confident in social situations.
Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder
Social phobia can be treated by seeking help. The treatment of social phobia depends on how much it affected your ability to manage your daily activities. The following are the most common treatments for social phobia (social anxiety disorder).
Psychotherapy helps in improving the symptoms of anxiety disorder. This therapy helps you to identify and change negative thinking about yourself. It helps in developing skills to gain confidence in everyday interactions (making small talk or having a meal with friends).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (cbt) is good for anxiety. It can equally be effective either conducted on individuals or in a group of people.
In exposure-based CBT, you work upon yourself to face certain situations in life that you fear most. This therapy can be effective in developing the self-confidence to handle any anxiety-inducing situation. You can also take part in skill training programs or role-playing to gain confidence and improve your social skills. Practicing exposure to certain social situations is also helpful to deal with your difficulties.
Different medications are used to treat the persistent symptoms of social phobia such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). You may also be prescribed Sertraline (Zoloft) or Paroxetine (Paxil).
The Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI) Venlafaxine (Effexor XR) is also a good option in lowering the symptoms of social phobia.
To control the side effects, you may be asked to start with a low dose. The quantity can gradually be increased to a full dose. For your symptoms to improve, it may take weeks to months.
Other medications for treating the symptoms of a social phobia include:
- Anti-anxiety medications
Stick to your treatments as it will take time to work. For some people, the symptoms might go away with time and they can discontinue medications. While others may be required to take medication for up to several years in order to lower the symptoms.
To make sure the treatments work best, do not stop your medical appointments. Along with, set goals to challenge yourself to approach certain social situations that cause fear. Take medications as prescribed and consult with your doctor if you notice any change in your condition.
Several supplements and herbs can also be used in treating social anxiety disorder. Although the results are mixed, studies show that several people show no benefit from their use. More work is needed in order to understand the benefits and risks of herbal supplements.
Other Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety Disorder
In addition to Psychotherapy and medications, there are some other ways that are also helpful in treating social phobia. These includes:
Lifestyle changes and home remedies
Although proper medical treatment is needed for social anxiety disorder. But you can try some other techniques in order to handle situations that can add to developing social anxiety symptoms.
- Learn how to reduce stress
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Try to participate in social gatherings
- Reach out to people you are comfortable with
These changes can help you handle the situations that cause anxiety.
Prepare yourself for social interactions
At first, it might be challenging to be social in certain situations. But avoiding such situations every time is not going to help you at all. By facing such situations on a regular basis can build and reinforce confidence and improve your coping skills.
- Prepare yourself for beginning conversations.
- Focus on the qualities that you can talk about.
- Learn about stress management techniques.
- Set goals and plan strategies to achieve them.
- Pay attention to how embarrassing situations take place.
Do not think much as most of the people around you don’t bother as much as you think. The above strategies can help you face certain situations without making you nervous.
Get an emotional support animal
If you experience social phobia, an emotional support animal can be of great benefit. An ESA may be beneficial to the stress levels, energy levels, and provide companionship.
Animals have a long history of offering love, support, and companionship to humans. Animals and particularly dogs offer a social buffer and a sense of security to those who feel anxious in certain situations.
There are many anxiety-inducing situations in which an ESA can offer support. These includes:
- Flying on an airplane
- Participating in a group of people
- Navigating daily life after a traumatic experience
Getting an ESA for anxiety disorder required a letter from a medical professional. The emotional support animal letter states that the person should have an ESA for assistance.
Complete the questionnaire to find out if you can qualify for an ESA letter.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are examples of Social Phobias?
The most common examples of phobias include:
- Acrophobia - fear of heights
- Autophobia - fear of being alone
- Arachnophobia - fear of spiders
- Aerophobia - fear of flying
- Claustrophobia - fear of confined spaces
- Astraphobia - fear of thunderstorms
Is Social Phobia the same as Social Anxiety?
Social phobia and social anxiety disorder are often used interchangeably. But both are different in some situations that may trigger a fear response. A social phobia is a fear of being judged by other people while speaking or performing.
On the other hand, social anxiety is about extreme nervousness and self-consciousness that you may experience during social gatherings.
How common is a Social Phobia and who experiences it the most?
Social anxiety disorder usually starts in the teenage years of people who are very reserved and shy. This condition is very common and research suggests that around 7% of Americans are affected. More women than men appear to develop this condition.
How do you calm someone with Social Anxiety?
Here are some of the ways that can help calm someone with social anxiety.
- Try to understand their emotions and feelings
- Distract their mind
- Be patient with them and do not lose your temper
- Make them laugh
- Be a good listener