While many people may equate social anxiety disorder with extreme shyness, the two are not the same. Social anxiety disorder’s symptoms last much longer and are much more severe than the normal shyness and anxiety many of us feel from time to time.
Social anxiety disorder — also known as social phobia — may be defined as a chronic mental health condition that causes an individual to experience persistent, irrational fears of one or more common situations in which he or she may do something humiliating or embarrassing and be negatively perceived by others.
People suffering from social anxiety disorder are afraid of social situations to the point where their anxieties and fears disrupt their daily lives. In fact, people with social phobia often find normal, everyday occurrences such as writing a check in public or eating with their friends impossible to undertake.
Although social anxiety disorder seems to receive less attention than other mental health issues, it affects millions of Americans each year — between 5-10% of the population — and is the most common anxiety disorder and the third most common psychiatric disorder in the United States after depression and alcohol abuse.
Social anxiety disorder can also be one of the most debilitating mental health issues and its symptoms can make it difficult to go to work or school, to meet and interact with other people, or even to leave the house.
How Does One Get Social Anxiety Disorder?
While some experts believe social anxiety disorder is a learned behavior that is acquired by people who experienced an over-protective childhood or suffered a humiliating experience in their past, research indicates that you’re more likely to develop social anxiety disorder if your biological parents or siblings have the condition.
For the moment, the causes of social anxiety disorder remain unknown. However, as with numerous mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder likely arises from a complex interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors.
We do know that social anxiety disorder begins at a significantly earlier age than other major mental disorders. Around half of the individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder experienced signs and symptoms of the illness by the time they were 11 years of age and over 80% showed symptoms by the age of 20.
Statistics also show that more women have social anxiety disorder than men and that social anxiety disorder commonly leads to other mental health issues, such as depression and alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, as with post-traumatic stress, there seems to be very little that can be done to prevent the development of social anxiety disorder.
Perhaps the most important point to emerge from clinical studies is the benefit of early diagnosis and treatment.
How Can You Tell if You or Someone You Know Has Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder may be a common mental health issue, but just because you’re a little shy or nervous doesn’t mean you have it.
That having been said, social anxiety disorder often goes undiagnosed for years before treatment is sought.
Other than the broad definition of social anxiety disorder offered above, social anxiety disorder’s symptoms can vary widely from one individual to another and the intensity of an individual’s symptoms may vary significantly throughout the course of their lifetime.
People with social phobia may be comfortable with certain people or situations, only to feel intense anxiety in other circumstances or avoid them altogether. It is also possible for a person with social anxiety disorder to progress from a debilitating fear of one social situation to having anxiety about all social encounters.
Some of the more common symptoms experienced by people with social phobia are:
People suffering from social anxiety disorder may also experience the following physical symptoms, especially before or during social interactions:
Individuals with social anxiety disorder also commonly have other -related conditions, such as insomnia, irritability, fatigue, decrease in sexual desire, dramatic swings in appetiteand even seizures.
Additionally, people with social anxiety disorder have been found to utilize medical services more frequently and are more likely to be dependent on welfare or disability than other individuals.
All this being said, the vast majority of individuals who may be considered anxious or shy are able to face their fears and live a fulfilling, rewarding, and content life.
However, if you’re concerned that you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety disorder you need to seek professional help. Only doctors and qualified mental health professionals are capable of providing a proper diagnosis, and a proper diagnosis is the first step towards getting the help you need.
Can Social Anxiety Disorder Be Treated Effectively?
Although social anxiety disorder typically persists throughout life, it can be treated effectively.
The two most effective types of treatment for social anxiety disorder are medications and a form of anxiety counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be essential for helping people with this condition identify, confront, and resolve the underlying ideas, attitudes, and negative beliefs that lead to unnecessary and unwanted anxiety and fear.
In fact, research has indicated that cognitive behavioral therapy improves symptoms in three out of four people with social anxiety disorder.
A cognitive behavioral therapist may also employ management and relaxation techniques as well as exposure therapy — a treatment method that gradually introduces someone with social anxiety disorder to anxiety causing situations in such a way that the person with the disorder is able to remain in control and overcome their fears.
Though lifestyle changes alone are not enough to overcome social anxiety disorder, they can support the treatment process as can friends and family members.
While no one wants to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, early diagnosis and treatment can help you prevent the symptoms of social anxiety disorder from becoming more severe as well as help you prevent depression, substance abuse, and the physical symptoms that so often accompany it.
Learning to cope with and overcome social anxiety disorder is no easy task; yet thousands upon thousands of American have learned to do just that. If you have social anxiety disorder, you’re not alone.
Seeking treatment from a counselor or therapist who has experience treating anxiety disorders is the first step you must take in order to start living your life on your own terms, enjoying new relationships, and experiencing the joy in life you deserve. To learn more about therapy , visit Dr. Sherrie Campbell’s website on therapy services in Yorba Linda , CA.
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