July 22, 2020

Pranav Harish

Social Anxiety Disorder: A Condition Beyond Shyness

Many of us feel uncomfortable and nervous in social situations.

But, does everyday social situations cause significant anxiety in you? Do you fear being judged negatively or watched by others all the time? Are you extremely self-conscious in your day-to-day life? Do all aspects of your life seem to fall apart?

This condition is called social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Known to be a common occurrence, it will lead to disruption in your daily life - attending school, working in an office, making friends, keeping relationships, or going out to buy groceries.

There is a misconception that people with social phobia are "just introverts". But, there is a considerable difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder. It goes beyond and causes significant impairment in a person's life.

People with social phobia are aware of the fact that their extreme fear and worry is unreasonable. But, they feel helpless and thus avoid such situations altogether or deal with it with intense distress and anxiety.

What causes social anxiety disorder?

The possible causes of social anxiety disorder in a person are as follows:

  1. Amygdala is a part of the brain that controls fear response. If you have an overactive amygdala, then it will cause severe anxiety in social situations due to a heightened fear response.
  2. Studies suggest that social anxiety disorder is a learned behavior. People may develop this phobia following an unpleasant experience. Children who experience bullying, humiliation, trauma, or abuse are more susceptible to social anxiety disorder.
  3. Underdeveloped social skills seem to play a role in the onset of social phobia. A person may feel discouraged or afraid to talk to people.
  4. Research shows that some people may have increased feelings of self-consciousness due to a facial injury, disfigurement, or stuttering that may trigger social anxiety.
  5. If you have family members who have social phobia, then you are susceptible to the condition. But that does not mean you already have it. However, it is a bit unclear how much of a role does genetics play.

Signs and symptoms of social phobia

The common symptoms of social anxiety disorder fall under three categories:

1. Physical

  • Blushing and sweating
  • Trembling
  • Lump in the throat
  • Muscle tension
  • Chills
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased heart rate

In some cases, the physical symptoms may become very severe and cause a "panic attack". People with social phobia are aware that their panic attack is due to fear of social situations or performance.

2. Behavioral

  • Avoidance - avoid speaking or doing things due to fear of embarrassment or situations where you might be the center of attention. For example, a person might drop a class to avoid giving a presentation or might avoid entering a place where everyone is already seated.
  • Fear of talking to strangers or being judged
  • Concerns about humiliating yourself
  • Fear that others will notice your anxious behavior
  • Sometimes you might experience intense fear and anxiety only during a public performance, but not in other social situations.

3. Cognitive

  • Hold strong negative beliefs in the failure of your social situation or performance.
  • Dysfunctional thought pattern
  • Negative thoughts and self-doubt
  • Disregard any positive social interaction

If allowed to continue and not treated in time, then these symptoms will wreck a person's self-image and esteem.

Related: Distinguishing Social Anxiety Disorder from Other Possible Conditions

Diagnosis of social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder tends to grow worse with time, and early intervention will result in better well-being.

The social phobia diagnosis depends on the following:

  1. You have a fear of humiliation or embarrassment because of the way you act.
  2. Fear of rejection because your anxiety symptoms are evident
  3. The anxiety you experience is significantly higher when compared to the actual situation and the threat it poses.
  4. The fear or anxiety has lasted for 6 months or more.
  5. The fear or anxiety is not due to any other medical condition, substance, or drug abuse.
  6. The symptoms interfere with your daily functioning and hamper other areas of your life.

If you show the above signs only when speaking or performing in public, then your diagnosis will be changed to performance social anxiety disorder.

If you feel you or anyone you know has social phobia, then do not hesitate to get help no matter how hard it may feel. Treatment and therapy by a psychiatrist or a mental health professional will help manage the symptoms and improve your life.

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