Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach while appearing for an exam or visiting a doctor? Feeling anxious in these situations is normal and expected. However, high anxiety levels that disrupt cognition and interfere with the daily life of an individual come under the category of anxiety disorders. Social anxiety disorder, often characterized by intense fear and embarrassment, is a type of anxiety disorder.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
It is a mental health condition wherein the person experiences intense fear and stress while talking with people, meeting someone new, or attending a social event. They are too concerned with being judged and are afraid that everyone in the room is staring at or talking about them.
People who suffer from social anxiety disorder experience severe anxiety and stress that disrupts their everyday life. It becomes a serious mental health condition when it becomes persistent and the person becomes unable to interact with others. This might start affecting their relationships, work-life and overall routine in general. It can occur at any age, it is most commonly identified in teenage.
How Is It Different From Shyness?
Though shyness and social anxiety disorder are similar in some ways, it would be highly incorrect to use them interchangeably. Social anxiety disorder is often dismissed as shyness, and this is why many people do not get the help that they need. Thus, it becomes very important to learn to differentiate between the two, as social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness.
While shyness is a common personality trait that makes people nervous in the company of others, SAD is a condition that can have a huge impact on a person’s life. Some individuals are naturally quiet, and they find comfort in this. While shy people might be able to overcome their shyness after a while, recovering from SAD is not always this simple. However, shyness can form social anxiety when it causes the person to become distant and anxious for long periods. When it takes the form of avoidance and an over-analyzing nature, it can become a cause of social anxiety.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Anyone suffering from social anxiety disorder might experience the following symptoms when interacting with people-
- Fear of judgement
- Intense anxiety before, during, and after social contact.
- Worrying about embarrassing oneself
- Imagining worst-case scenarios of humiliation
- Missing school, college, work, or other social situations regularly
- Feeling a need to be drunk or under influence to be able to talk to other people
- Feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the company of others
- Fear that others might notice that you look anxious.
- Feeling that all eyes are on you
- Overanalyzing everyone’s gestures and words
- Avoiding calls and conversations
- Avoiding asking questions even in the case of doubt
- Blushing, sweating
- Feeling nauseous or sick in the stomach
- Rigid body stance
- Trembling or shaking
- Finding it difficult to speak.
- Rapid heart rate or not being able to feel your heartbeat
- Having a shaking voice
- Feeling as if “my mind has gone blank”
- Finding difficulty in making eye-contact
- Feeling tension in muscles
We must, however, note that every person does not experience all these symptoms, and they should not be used as a sole diagnostic tool. Moreover, some people also have limited or selective anxiety. This means that they may not be equally anxious while interacting with everyone.
Causes of Social Anxiety
For years, researchers have tried to understand what causes social anxiety disorder. There is no single factor that contributes to social anxiety disorder, like with other mental health conditions. Evidence suggests that multiple factors play a role and interactions among genetics, physical, and environmental factors lead to the emergence of social anxiety disorder.
Genetic factors- anxiety traits are found to run in families. Suffering from social anxiety disorder are more likely to develop It is, however, impossible to determine precisely to what extent anxiety disorders are inherited. Research suggests that people with parents suffering from social anxiety disorder are more likely to develop it themselves. Scientists have been working to identify the gene or combination of genes that are responsible for transmitting anxiety.
Environmental factors- individual experiences in the world around us shape our personalities and our reactions to different stimuli. Major life events, traumatic experiences, and the people around us play a role. Childhood experiences that leave a huge impact also affect our adult lives.
Moreover, parenting styles have a huge role in the development of anxiety disorders. A positive parenting style causes the child to become more socially involved. Negative parenting styles that cause the child to become too shy, fearful, and incapable of trusting others can lead to the emergence of anxiety disorders. Parenting styles deeply affect our self-esteem as individuals, and low self-esteem can cause various mental health conditions. Additionally, regular conflicts in the family and negative perceptions of relationships have an effect.
Brain structure- research has found evidence suggesting that several parts of the brain are responsible for fear and anxiety mechanisms. Scientists have claimed that hyperactivity in the amygdala is related to social anxiety. This is because activity in the amygdala is linked with symptoms identified by a social anxiety disorder. Brain scans of many people have also led scientists to believe in the involvement of the prefrontal cortex. Many new forms of therapy use strategies to train the brain to react more rationally and lower the symptoms of anxiety.
Factors that can make an individual more prone to social anxiety disorder-
- Being a victim of bullying
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Family history
- Having to deal with many changes at one time
- Insecurity about one’s body and looks
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) provides criteria for classifying symptoms as a mental health disorder and is used by psychologists worldwide to recognise social anxiety.
Professional psychologists enquire about the symptoms, family history, and experiences before diagnosing.
Therapy– counselling therapy has proven its usefulness in treating people with social anxiety disorder. Sessions with a good psychologist can help you manage anxiety, think rationally, and improve your relationships.
Focus groups- being a part of group conversations will make you feel that you’re not alone. In focus groups, people help each other in many ways. It will also help your social skills and give a boost to your self-esteem and confidence.
Medication- professionals sometimes prescribe medicines that help reduce anxiety and help restore normal functioning. Medicines like SSRIs and SNRIs are the most widely used as a cure for anxiety.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Although one cannot suspect the condition in advance, certain preventive measures like therapy, meditation, and altering one’s lifestyle can help prevent the disorder. Avoiding negative thoughts and surrounding oneself with trustworthy and reliable people can help. Healthy communication with a few trusted friends can go a long way.
You know when to seek help. If you or a loved one is starting to avoid social situations regularly and showing signs of anxiety, it might be time to seek an online psychologist or professional help.
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