Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a persistent, irrational fear about social situations and being around people. It’s one of the most common anxiety disorders.
Much more than just “shyness”, social anxiety disorder causes intense, overwhelming fear over what may just be an everyday activity like shopping or speaking on the phone. People affected by it may fear doing or saying something they think will be humiliating. They are intensely aware of how others might be perceiving them and tend to feel as if everyone is specifically watching and judging them.
Social anxiety disorder disrupts normal life, interfering with social relationships and quality of life, and impairing performance at work or school.
It’s generally more common in women than men and often starts in adolescence, or sometimes as early as childhood. If you think you may have social anxiety disorder, don’t be afraid to see your GP. It is a recognised condition that can be effectively treated.
The signs of social anxiety disorder
Children: Crying, remaining silent and withdrawn or have tantrums. They may fear going to school and participating in class and school performances.
Teens and adults with social anxiety disorder may fear activities such as:
interacting with authority figures
talking in groups or starting conversations
talking on the phone
eating or drinking with company
They may also exhibit behaviour indicating low self esteem and feel insecure about themselves and being in relationships. They may be overly sensitive to be judged and avoid eye contact, along with other shy body language. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to help them deal with the anxiety and be more confident in social settings
Sometimes, the fear and anxiety of a social situation can build up to a panic attack, a period of usually just a few minutes when the person feels an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. There may be physical symptoms too, such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling and having heart palpitations. These symptoms can be frightening but they don’t cause any physical harm.
What are the causes?
We don’t really know what causes social anxiety disorder, but it is likely to involve a combination of factors. Genes may play a role.
Also, the behaviour of parents may have an influence on whether their child will develop social anxiety disorder. According to Anxiety UK, people with the disorder have described their parents as:
- not affectionate enough
- constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
- overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
- exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers
Treating social anxiety disorder in adults
Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most effective types of treatment for social anxiety disorder. You’ll be offered individual CBT specially developed for social anxiety disorder, which is usually 14 sessions over approximately four months.
Generally, CBT works by helping you identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioural patterns. You and your therapist work together to change your behaviour and replace unhelpful beliefs with more realistic and balanced ones.
CBT teaches you new skills and helps you understand how to react more positively to situations that would usually cause you anxiety.
Your therapy sessions may include education about social anxiety, video feedback to correct distorted views of yourself, and behavioural exercises and experiments.
If you wish to try a different psychological therapy to CBT, you may be offered supported self-help. You may, for example, be offered a CBT-based book or computer programme to try over three to four months.
Learn more about self help therapy
Psychotherapy allows you to look deeper into your problems and worries and deal with troublesome habits and a wide range of mental disorders. Interpersonal psychotherapy aims to link social anxiety to relationship problem areas and address these.
Short-term psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder aims to improve your social skills, among other things, and encourage you to face feared social situations outside therapy sessions.
Ways to deal wit social phobia:
1) Watch your breathing and body language. Learn to relax.
2) Monitor negative thinking. Paying attention to negative thinking can cause anxiety to spiral out of control. CBT techniques are useful in helping with this
3) Face your fears – it is important to ACT and challenge your fears. The more you believe your thinking and don’t try to act against it, the more the fear grows
4) Nurture relationships. Start online, interact on forums. Spend time outdoors in public areas..get used to being around others and engaging with others to improve your confidence
Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasion, like when giving a speech or interviewing for a new job. But social anxiety, or social phobia, is more than just shyness or occasional nerves. With social anxiety disorder, your fear of embarrassing yourself is so intense that you avoid situations that can trigger it. But no matter how painfully shy you may be and no matter how bad the butterflies, you can learn to be comfortable in social situations and reclaim your life.