If you’ve ever found yourself feeling nervous or anxious at the thought of being in certain social situations, you’re not alone! Almost everyone experiences those thoughts and emotions at one time or another. Some are nervous at the thought of meeting new people. Others dread public speaking, or being singled out for attention in a meeting. For most people, that’s perfectly normal – and the average person tends to find ways to manage the discomfort. If that fear and discomfort is something that you struggle to deal with, however, you may be experiencing social anxiety disorder. Fortunately, there is help for people in your situation. To know whether you could benefit from that assistance, it’s important to understand social anxiety disorder symptoms and treatment options.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a mental disorder characterized by intense and often paralyzing fear of various social situations. In patients suffering from the condition, these situations are so frightening that they can disrupt lives. In many cases, people suffering from social anxiety disorder recognize that they have this phobia, but are unable to prevent themselves from feeling frightened and anxious.
Unfortunately, there is no set criteria for the types of situations that trigger social anxiety. Some people suffer from its effects in nearly any social environment. Others are only impacted in certain situations. In addition, there are different types of social anxiety. For many people, a little nervousness in certain situations is entirely normal. When that anxiety is persistent and disruptive to normal life, however, it can be a sign of a more serious problem – social anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
Like other disorders of the body and mind, there are signs and symptoms that can help you to recognize the condition. For people suffering from social anxiety disorder, those signs can manifest as physical symptoms, emotional responses, or behaviors. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following symptoms, this disorder may be to blame.
Physical symptoms of social anxiety can take many forms. For some people, the anxiety can cause them to blush. Others may find themselves short of breath, or experience a tightening around the chest. Many find that their heart race, as their natural fight or flight instinct takes over. It’s also common for anxiety sufferers to experience stomach discomfort that can range from a mildly upset stomach to nausea. Some patients tremble with fear. Others find that their voices become shaky when they try to speak. Sweating, dizziness, and fainting are also common manifestations of anxiety.
To make matters worse, those physical symptoms can reinforce the anxiety. A person who experiences a shaky voice or trembling before a public speaking opportunity is sure to avoid those situations with an even greater passion. After all, he or she will want to avoid the embarrassment that those physical symptoms might bring. Over time, even milder cases of social anxiety can grow into serious problems due to this natural avoidance tendency.
There are a number of specific emotional signs of social anxiety as well. Many patients are overly self-conscious in social situations, and never seem to find a comfort level that enables them to relax and enjoy themselves when they’re in those environments. For many of those people, certain types of social events can be a cause for concern days or even months prior to their occurrence. This concern will often manifest as extreme anxiety, and the affected individual may even look for excuses to avoid the situation altogether.
Social anxiety sufferers may also be fearful of social interaction with people they do not know. They may avoid being the focus of attention, particularly in unfamiliar group settings. People with this condition also tend to be self-critical, and overanalyze their performance in social settings. Many come to expect that they will be embarrassed at events or social gatherings, and often end up spending an inordinate amount of time worried about that potential humiliation.
There are certain behaviors that these people often engage in to minimize their discomfort. For some, avoidance becomes a primary strategy for coping with potential embarrassment. By avoiding most social situations, they believe that they can minimize the risk of discomfort and humiliation. For others, anxious behavior causes them to bring other people with them to these social situations. Some people simply retreat into the background of events and gatherings, preferring to escape notice. In many extreme cases, people suffering from this condition may resort to alcohol or other substances to ease the discomfort.
Treatment Options for Dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder
Treatment options for social anxiety disorder can take several forms, depending upon the nature of the anxiety and how it impacts the patient’s life. As a rule, these treatments come in two main forms, however: psychotherapy and medications.
Psychotherapy is sometimes referred to as “talk therapy” due to its reliance on helping the patient to talk through the anxiety. This type of therapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy, which is widely recognized as the most effective psychotherapy technique for treating patients who suffer from any kind of persistent anxiety.
Psychotherapy helps patients to identify the negative thoughts and self-criticisms that trigger the anxiety. It also helps patients to develop coping skills that can be used to reduce anxiety and gain confidence. Often, this form of therapy relies upon gradual exposure to the very social situations that the patient fears. To build up to that exposure, psychotherapy often employs role-playing techniques that help the patient to prepare for the real-world challenge.
Medications also exist for the treatment of this condition. Most doctors tend to rely on serotonin reuptake inhibitors for the more extreme cases of social anxiety disorder, including drugs like Zoloft and Paxil. In addition, some patients may receive antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Typically, medications are used to treat symptoms, while psychotherapy techniques address the underlying problem and help the patient begin to recover from the condition.
Social anxiety disorder is more common than most people understand, so if you believe that you may be suffering from its effects you’re in good company. The good news is that you don’t have to live a life of fear and anxiety. There are effective treatment options that can help you minimize your current symptoms, alleviate your anxiety, and overcome the fears that are currently impeding your ability to fully enjoy all that life has to offer. So, if you’re suffering from any of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, get the help you need today.