What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person's life. It is chronic because it does not go away on its own. Only direct cognitive-behavioral therapy can change the brain, and help people overcome social anxiety.
People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested.
Paradoxically, people with social anxiety want to make friends, be included in groups, and be involved and engaged in social interactions. But having social anxiety prevents people from being able to do the things they want to do. Although people with social anxiety want to be friendly, open, and sociable, it is fear (anxiety) that holds them back.
Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety usually experience significant distress in the following situations:
- Being introduced to other people
- Being teased or criticized
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched or observed while doing something
- Having to say something in a formal, public situation
- Meeting people in authority
- Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations
- Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking)
- Meeting other people’s eyes
- Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
This list is not a complete list of symptoms - other symptoms may be associated with social anxiety as well.
The feelings that accompany social anxiety include anxiety, high levels of fear, nervousness, automatic negative emotional cycles, racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, and muscle twitches. In severe situations, people can develop a dysmorphia concerning part of their body (usually the face) in which they perceive themselves irrationally and negatively. Constant, intense anxiety (fear) is the most common symptom.
People with social anxiety typically know that their anxiety is irrational, is not based on fact, and does not make rational sense. Nevertheless, thoughts and feelings of anxiety persist and are chronic (i.e., show no signs of going away). Appropriate active, structured, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the only solution to this problem. Decades of research have concluded that this type of therapy is the only way to change the neural pathways in the brain permanently. This means that a permanent change is possible for everyone.
How is Social Anxiety Disorder Treated?
Social anxiety, as well as the other anxiety disorders, can be successfully treated today. In seeking help for this problem, we recommend searching for a specialist -- someone who understands this problem well and knows how to treat it.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for social anxiety can be markedly successful. Thousands of research studies now indicate that, after the completion of social anxiety-specific CBT, people with social anxiety disorder are changed. They now live a life that is no longer controlled by fear and anxiety. Appropriate therapy is markedly successful in changing people's thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behavior. The person with social anxiety disorder must be compliant and do what is necessary to overcome this disorder. National Institutes of Mental Health-funded studies report a very high success rate using cognitive therapy with a behavioral therapy group. Both can be essential to alleviating anxiety symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
If the problems in your life are stopping you from functioning well or feeling good, professional help can make a big difference. And if you're having trouble, know that you are not alone: One in four adults in this country have a mental health problem in any given year.
Of course, you don't have to be in crisis to seek help. Why wait until you're really suffering? Even if you're not sure whether you would benefit from help, it can't hurt to explore the possibility.
A mental health professional can help you:
- Come up with plans for solving problems
- Feel stronger in the face of challenges
- Change behaviors that hold you back
- Look at ways of thinking that affect how you feel
- Heal pains from your past
- Figure out your goals
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for a mental health issue can include medication and psychotherapy. In some cases, the two work well together.
What, exactly, is psychotherapy? It's a general term that means talking about your problems with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes. Depending on your situation, treatment can be fairly short or longer-term.
Some people worry that getting help is a sign of weakness. If you do, consider that it can be a sign of great strength to take steps toward getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.