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Social Anxiety Disorder

Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition which affects between 15 and 20 million American adults according to the National Institute on Mental Health. The condition is characterized by an unmerited but overwhelming fear over social situations, especially those in which the person feels they are being evaluated or critiqued.

The person may have a legitimate lack of experience in social graces, public speaking or interpersonal skills, but the fear and anxiety they feel is paralyzing and unreasonable. Worries over how others may judge them make it impossible for the person to perform tasks as mundane as eating and drinking or as necessary as fulfilling work requirements.

All of us may feel anxious about giving a speech or business report or being asked to perform publicly in some way. That is not the same thing as social anxiety disorder. However, if anxiety over a social obligation troubles you for weeks leading up to the event, if it leads you to avoid interacting with people despite your healthy desire to be social, or if it causes you physical discomforts such as diarrhea or stomach upset, you may be living with social anxiety.

Though it can strike at any age, the onset of social anxiety disorder usually comes at puberty, a time fraught with social fears and awkwardness for all young teens. It is not known what exactly causes a person to have the disorder, but it is likely that as with other mental health conditions, a combination of environmental, psychological and physiological factors is to blame. The condition is most common among females.

Thankfully, social anxiety disorder is considered highly treatable. It is related to depression and so may be helped with some of the same therapies used to treat that illness. Treatment can include anti-depressants and counseling which focus on correcting wrong thinking patterns. Short of professional help, there are things a person can do to alleviate the problem.

  1. Avoid substances which exacerbate your emotional state. This means staying away from caffeine, alcohol and stimulant drugs.
  2. Practice taking control of your thoughts and emotions. Pause to mentally count three or more things which you can hear, smell and feel through touch. Also, intentionally slow your breathing when you feel anxious or panicky.
  3. Be intentional about a positive frame of mind which says "You Can" and reject thoughts which say "You Cannot".
  4. Take on small social challenges at the beginning. Saying hello to a new person, for example, could be a first step. Challenge yourself next time you are in a social setting to ask one question of another and so forth.

The important thing is to address the condition in some positive way. Allowing it to go unchecked may lead to more serious forms of depression or other mental illness. Instead, confronting the anxiety early on can mean victory and enhanced self-esteem for a lifetime.

Posted in Anxiety

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