What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
But, first: A game of “Would You Rather”…
Would you rather…
- Light your face on fire – or – approach someone whom you’re interested in?
- Deliver a high-stakes, professional presentation in front of 30 of your coworkers – or – ingest a handful of tacks?
- Attend a graduation party for your niece, where most of the guests are strangers – or – always feel on the verge of sneezing, without ever finding relief?
- Work out in a crowded gym AND get dressed afterward in a public locker room – or – only eat mayonnaise for the rest of your life?
If your decision doesn’t seem intuitive—or eating those tacks is actually looking pretty appealing in comparison—then you could have Social Anxiety Disorder, the third most common mental health condition in the United States.
But, what is Social Anxiety Disorder? Or rather, what isn’t it?
Social Anxiety Disorder is more than just episodic shyness. It’s normal to feel butterflies dancing in your stomach immediately before speaking in public, or when you’re nervous about tanking a first date. But when social anxiety becomes immobilizing—you’d rather accept a failing grade than present a project in lecture OR your fear of humiliation causes you to cancel that date prematurely—then, Social Anxiety Disorder is the insidious culprit.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder encompasses a cluster of symptoms that are both behavioral (e.g. avoidance of stressful situations) and physiological (e.g. clammy palms or an upset stomach). These symptoms may include:
- Fear Of Judgement: A paralyzing fear of humiliation, unwanted attention, or negative evaluation by others in social situations
- Avoidance: Avoidance of activities or situations that could worsen social anxiety (e.g. declining to eat lunch in public places; refraining from answering questions in lecture; avoiding entrances and exits from rooms that could draw accidental attention, etc.)
- Reduced Quality Of Life: Disproportionate social anxiety that interferes with academic, professional, or interpersonal development or the activities of daily living; Difficulty making friends or achieving occupational goals—despite desperately wishing that things were otherwise; Feeling as though you give “awkward” a renewed meaning
- Extreme Preparation: Excessive rehearsing of social situations prior to making introductions or telephone calls, asking questions, delivering presentations, ordering meals, or conversing with others, etc.
- Catastrophizing & Apologizing: Catastrophizing about worst case scenarios in social situations; over-apologizing for perceived faults or reflexively living by the mantra of “I’m Sorry!”—when you’ve done nothing wrong; seeking constant reassurance from loved ones in social settings
- Panic Attacks: Simmering anxiety that erupts into full-blown panic (a sudden skyrocketing in heart rate or blood pressure, sweaty palms, trembling, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or nausea; intense fear of losing control or of dying; feelings of numbness or detachment from reality, etc.)
- Physical indicators: Nervous “butterflies” in the stomach; abdominal cramping or diarrhea; sweating or blushing profusely; a quavering voice or stuttering; increased clumsiness
- Sensations Of Worthlessness: Low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, or depression
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder is an American epidemic. A confluence of risk factors—rather than a single, discrete cause—often contributes to the development of this condition. These risk factors often include:
- Genetics: Having a biological parent or sibling with Social Anxiety Disorder
- Brain Activity: If your amygdala (or fear center) of the brain is working overtime, your body may perceive non-threatening social stimuli as menacing
- Parental Influence: Helicopter (or overly protective) parents may inadvertently instill apprehension or an unwarranted fear of “social dangers” in their children
- Adverse Experiences: Bullying; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; and neglect
- Temperament: A natural inclination to shyness, risk aversion, or inhibition
- Physical Or Mental Health: Having a physical or mental health condition—such as Parkinson’s Disease, neurological damage from a stroke, stuttering, or a physical or developmental disability—that generates feelings of self-consciousness
How Can Counseling & Therapy For Social Anxiety Disorder Help Me?
According to a recent survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (or ADAA), 36% of individuals who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder will endure symptoms for over 10 years before seeking professional assistance!
We get it.
If you have Social Anxiety Disorder, what could seem worse than talking about your problems with a virtual stranger? However, once you make that initial leap, the hardest hurdle is forever behind you! Counseling for Social Anxiety Disorder can assist you not only to forge lasting and meaningful relationships, but also, to maximize your potential in the academic and professional realms.
To address your condition, your therapist may recommend:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Analyzing and adapting the thoughts (or cognitions) that underpin your fear of social situations and instilling coping mechanisms to soothe social anxiety or panic in generalized or specific social scenarios
- Exposure Therapy: For severe anxiety, interacting with others in social scenarios that are usually avoided to prevent panic and learning how to abate anxiety in the targeted situations
- Social Skills Training: Because we’re all a little bit awkward sometimes! Practicing social skills, such as starting up dialogues, conversing with your boss, preparing for business dinners or first date conversations, etc., in anxiety-provoking social situations
- Physician Care: For intractable cases of social anxiety, your therapist may also recommend oversight by a physician, who is capable of prescribing antianxiety medications to alleviate neurochemical causes and symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Alternative Therapy: Innovative and supplemental stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapeutic yoga, equine therapy, etc. that promote self-soothing and stress reduction