People with social anxiety disorder fear doing something embarrassing in public, and/or the scrutiny and judgment of strangers, so they completely avoid social interactions or drastically limit their exposure to social activities. What makes this kind of behavior a concern is that someone with social anxiety disorder will allow the quality of their life to decline if it means that their anxiety will be assuaged; that is, they will let their social life deteriorate, they will let their job and academic performance recede, and they may never leave their house, if it means that this protects them from what their social anxiety disorder makes them fear.
Scope and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety disorder know that there is no logical reason to fear simple social interactions, but they are helpless to control or prevent the dread and anxiety that comes whenever they are in a trigger situation, explains the National Institute of Mental Health. For that reason, they may feel the tension and anxiety start to develop even weeks in advance of the date of a social interaction, or for however long it takes to work up the nerve to go out. Some sufferers of social anxiety disorder experience symptoms for almost every conceivable social interaction; others may experience symptoms for specific situations. For example, giving a speech causes no discomfort, but going out on a date is a source of significant fear and stress.
Because of this scope, the NIH estimates that around 15 million Americans have some form of social anxiety disorder. Perhaps the very nature of the condition prevents people from seeking help for it – the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 36 percent of people who have social anxiety disorder have symptoms for 10 years or more before finally seeking help.
As with most types of anxiety disorders, there is a high possibility of developing an addiction to harmful drugs and alcohol. In social anxiety disorder, a person might resort to using stimulants to work up the courage to go out, or relaxants to calm their nerves about going to a public place. But using recreational substances (or even prescribed drugs, but without medical supervision) to deal with the effects of social anxiety disorder can create a number of psychological problems, some of which might even compound the anxiety of social anxiety disorder.
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include:
- Avoidance of places where the person fears they will be judged or humiliated
- Inability to enjoy social experiences, like going to a movie or public event
- Difficulty making friends and connections
- Physical reactions (sweating, trembling, upset stomach, etc.) when having to socially interact
The anxiety can become so severe that it leads to a full-blown panic attack, which, while being an emergency on its own, reinforces the social anxiety.
Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
The Mayo Clinic explains that, like most anxiety disorders, treating social anxiety disorder has two approaches: medicine and psychotherapy. Medicine often involves the prescription of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are a class of antidepressants used for their effectiveness and limited side effects. They work by preventing the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of positivity and happiness. Other forms of medication can include benzodiazepines, known for their powerful sedative and relaxant qualities.
With psychotherapy, the patient will talk with a doctor about understanding the thoughts and feelings behind social anxiety disorder. This might mean learning how to think and behave in healthier and more positive ways to counteract the onset of social anxiety. Psychotherapy can also include programs like carefully exposing the patient to the situations that they fear the most, to show them that no harm will come to them, or that the harm is minimal; or including friends and family in the therapy, to provide education and insight into what social anxiety disorder entails for the patient.
Social anxiety disorder can be very difficult to live with, but we want you to know that you don’t have to live with it. Starting the process of treatment can begin with a single phone call to talk with one of our admissions coordinators, who are standing by to give you all the information you need.