What is social anxiety?

Definition

Social anxiety(also known as social phobia) is related to the individual’s intense feeling of fear to be involved in social situations where he might be scrutinized or evaluated by other people. The sick person is confronted with a lot of discomfort and distress that affect his professional skills and personal life.

Overview of the main social anxiety facts

1.Social Anxiety is different from shyness

Statistics say that up to 80% of people admit that they went through periods with excessive shyness during childhood and adolescence. The fact is that being shy when we are very young is quite normal. Once we grow this feeling needs to fade slowly allowing us to become more and more self-confident.

Social anxiety differs from shyness because:

  • Shy people do not experience the negative thoughts and emotions related to social anxiety.

  • There are people who struggle with social anxiety without being shy. Once they manage to overcome anxiety, they display a real joy of being in the center of attention and controlling the entire social event.

  • Although many patients claim to be shy, shyness is not a necessary condition to develop social anxiety.

  • Shyness represents a personality trait; sometimes it is associated with modesty and mystery that turn the individual into a more interesting and appealing person.

A study made by the National Institute of Mental health (NIMH) about the link between social anxiety and shyness in teenagers, revealed that only 12% of shy teens met the standard diagnostic criteria for social anxiety, while 5% of those who did not recognize themselves as shy, met the criteria for developing the disorder.

2.Social Anxiety affects a lot of people

Social anxiety affects about 15 millions of Americans (7%) of both genders. The percentage of women suffering from social anxiety is slightly higher than the one for men. Two in three sick adults seek treatment, while only one in five teens go to doctor for therapy.

3.Social anxiety in children exposes them to many risks

Children suffering from social anxiety are prone to receive poor grades in school, skip social interactions necessary for a harmonious development, and are easily trapped in consuming drugs and alcohol.

4.Social Anxiety can be a disabling medical condition 

Social anxiety has a negative influence on the person’s routine life. The fear of eating or drinking next to other people, using a public restroom, sustaining a point of view in the front of an audience or an authority, or being introduced to strangers causes a lot of stress and decreases the self-esteem. You may become unable to work full time properly, to get engaged in competitive projects, and to maintain personal relationships.

5.Social Anxiety has different causes

The occurrence of social anxiety involves a series of factors such as:

  • genetic inheritance

The genes inherited from close relatives may play a role in triggering the symptoms of social anxiety.

  • brain chemistry

Low levels of serotonin, gamma amino butyric acid, and norepinephrine predispose to an increased fearful response to stimuli.

  • personal social experience

The individual’s past experiences linked to negative self-evaluation, being bullied, having overprotective parents or parents who constantly neglect their children influence his/her behavior in society.

  • environment

6.Social Anxiety comes with a large list of symptoms

The symptoms are divided in three main categories: physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, each one having its own importance when it comes to acquiring a proper diagnosis.

Physical symptoms:

  • sweat in excess

  • tension in major groups of muscles

  • stomach issues

  • shaky hands and voice

  • rapid heartbeat

  • hyperventilation

  • pains in the chest

  • temper tantrum

  • red face

Emotional symptoms:

  • self-consciousness

  • stage fright

  • low quality of sleep

  • agitation

  • excessive worry

  • flashbacks of public embarrassing moments

Behavioral symptoms:

  • hiding in the background

  • extreme avoidance of social activities

  • abusing of alcohol and drugs to cope with anxiety

  • becoming addicted to antidepressants

  • extreme focus on reaching perfection

  • keeping silence to go unnoticed

  • deep analyze of the flaws of your social behavior

7.Social Anxiety is a treatable disorder

The first-line of treatment in social anxiety is represented by medications and psychotherapy.

Most prescribed medications for social anxiety:

  • Zoloft

  • Paxil

  • Prozac

  • Effexor

  • Xanax

These medications are meant to regulate the level of various brain chemicals that are believed to be connected to mood, depression, and fear.

Psychotherapy mostly relies on cognitive-behavioral therapy that proved to be effective in treating social anxiety. This therapy addresses the individual’s inner causes of anxiety related to negative thoughts and incorrect behavior patterns.

Many doctors consider that the combination of these two types of treatment provides better chances for full recovery.

Alternative methods of treatment:

  • hypnosis

  • herbal supplements

  • relaxation techniques

8.Social Anxiety can be overcome

Social anxiety cannot be prevented but you can overcome it:

  • seek treatment as soon as the symptoms emerge

  • keep a journal of events and how you dealt with them

  • avoid substance abuse

  • improve your lifestyle

9.Social Anxiety does not turn you into an abnormal person

You are as normal as those people who feel great being in the spotlight. You only have a problem that requires proper diagnostic and treatment.

10.Social anxiety is not a permanent condition

Social anxiety is a temporary medical condition even though you think that it will last forever. There are successful treatments to cope with all of your fears.

11.Social anxiety has a good recovery prognosis

Social anxiety has an encouraging recovery rate. People respond differently to treatment: some report significant improvements after several weeks or months and the treatment can be discontinued, while others need long-term therapy to prevent the relapse of the disorder.

The main issue with social anxiety remains people’s resistance to asking for professional help.