What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Most of us are familiar with feelings of nervousness right before giving a presentation or performing in front of a crowd. However, for a person with social anxiety disorder, even making eye contact or engaging in a conversation can be anxiety-inducing. This can cause them to avoid social situations, which affects day-to-day living.
Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. A person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety in many, if not all social situations, and faces strong fears of being scrutinised or judged by other people. The fear of being negatively judged may cause a person with social anxiety disorder to fear accidentally offending others, and worry that others will notice their discomfort or embarrassment, especially because they often experience physical symptoms like blushing or sweating.
Some other physical symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder are:
- Heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea
Common situations that induce fear in people with social anxiety disorder include talking to strangers, eating in front of others, entering rooms, and starting conversations. These may differ from individual to individual. For instance, someone who fears public speaking may not have trouble attending a social event.
Social Anxiety Disorder or Reaction to a Stressful Event?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5), the fear or anxiety experienced is disproportionate to the threat which the situation actually poses. Feeling anxious in social situations may not be a reaction that is out of proportion if a stressful event is occurring to induce such feelings. For example, if a child is being bullied, they may be more prone to feelings of fear and may feel the need to avoid places or people.
At the same time, such stressful and potentially traumatic life events can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder in the form of environmental influences. Bullying, family conflicts, and violence can threaten an individual’s sense of well-being, which may predispose them to social anxiety problems.
How Therapy Can Be Helpful
Symptoms may arise when you are anticipating an event. After it is over, you may continue to worry about your behaviour, which can be time-consuming and mentally draining. If you are unsure whether you might be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, you may want to consider these questions:
- Have these feelings persisted for at least six months?
- Do you feel that the fears you experience in social situations are beyond your ability to control?
- Are the feelings and symptoms hindering your ability to go about daily activities, such as talking to people you wish to become friends with?
Avoiding social situations can have a negative impact on one’s personal relationships. It can also lead to low self-esteem, negative thoughts, and difficulties improving one’s social skills. If you are experiencing symptoms that cause you distress, you may want to speak to a psychologist. As trained professionals, they would be able to make a diagnosis, as well as work with you to identify helpful coping skills.
A person diagnosed with social anxiety disorder may be treated with psychological therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), medication, or both. Group therapy, which provides a safe space in which members can practise conversing with others, may be a good option to consider.
- American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 197-203.
- Bridges to Recovery. (n.d.). Causes of social anxiety. Retrieved on July 23, 2020, from https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/social-anxiety/causes-social-anxiety/
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Social anxiety disorder: More than just shyness. Retrieved on July 23, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/index.shtml
- WebMD. (n.d.). What is social anxiety disorder? Retrieved on July 23, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-social-anxiety-disorder#1