Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
Many people want to know what social phobia or social anxiety disorder is.
Well because the chance that they know someone with that challenge is quite high.
Although anxiety disorders are common at all ages, there is a misconception that their prevalence drastically declines with age.
This means being over 60 doesn’t make you immune to this disease.
Excessive fear and anxiety in everyday social situations characterize Social Phobia.
When you suffer from a Social Anxiety Disorder, you are excessively concerned about being the subject of scrutiny or negative evaluation by others.
For this reason, you avoid performing certain functions in front of others.
Those with Social Phobia are continually afraid that their actions will bring embarrassment, stressful situations, and humiliation.
The fear can be so severe and intense that it negatively affects your work, school or other regular daily activities!
Many who have Social Anxiety realize that their fears are exaggerated.
But they feel they cannot do anything about it.
In fact, sometimes they can be anxious for days or weeks.
In anticipation of an event that they find particularly intimidating.
Social Phobia can be limited to one type of situation.
Speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others.
In the most severe forms of Social Anxiety, the person experiences symptoms whenever there are other people around.
They feel scrutinized and fear that others will notice their anxiety and consider them to be weak, crazy or stupid.
Symptoms of Social Phobia
People with Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder meet some or all of the following characteristics:
- Intense and lasting fear of one or more social situations or circumstances that require some “performance” in front of strangers.
- Those suffering from Social Phobia are afraid of that they will act in a manner that is humiliating or causes embarrassment.
They fear the ongoing examination and judgment of others.
In these cases, there may be some visible symptoms that occur for psychological reasons such as blushing, sweating, gastrointestinal discomfort and trembling hands.
- Social phobics recognize that their fear is excessive and irrational, but still avoid the situations that cause it.
If this is not possible, they suffer from extreme anxiety.
Diagnosis of Social Phobia
Before making the diagnosis, professionals perform tests.
They run these tests to exclude other psychological illnesses or substance/drug abuse.
They then have to take a patient history interview.
This helps them understand if the subject is suffering from Social Phobia or something else.
This is not always so simple.
Other mental (especially anxiety) disorders share many similarities.
A wrong diagnosis may be harmful to the patient.
It could lead to an inappropriate treatment based on an incomplete identification of symptoms.
Therefore, professionals must perform a differential diagnosis.
In a differential diagnosis, they try to distinguish a particular disease or condition from others that present similar symptoms:
- Panic Disorder (with or without Agoraphobia), in which avoidance not only applies to social events and the individual wants to be in a safe environment, usually in the company of others whom they trust.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, in which fear is not focused only on social situations.
- Specific Phobias, in which fear is focused on a particular thing.
- Avoidant Personality Disorder, in which the person experiences severe difficulties being close (physically or emotionally) to another person.
- Simply being a shy person that is otherwise healthy.
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“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever.”
― Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
Did you know that social phobia…
- in children includes: crying, “freezing”, sticking to one person, lack of speech, excessive shyness, abstinence from play and other activities, fear of being with peers.
- occurs most often in women and among 3-13% of the population.
- about 20% of the population has a fear of public speaking, but in only about 2% is the fear strong enough to be considered a problem.
- usually begins in adolescence and continues throughout life.
- may be associated with any particular humiliating experience so that it can appear suddenly.
- has been associated with children whose parents tend to be overprotective without being emotionally supportive; are very concerned about their children’s appearance; discourage their kids from social activities.
Causes of Social Phobia
There are several possible causes of social anxiety disorder.
A complex interaction of environment and genes having an effect upon one another)is the most probable explanation.
We find this disorder within the same families and in people who have a specific functioning of the nervous system, along with a history of adverse experiences such as bullying, rejection, sexual abuse or humiliation.
There are also psychological factors that include:
A person can have a negative social experience (directly, via witnessing or verbally) and through classical conditioning, learns to be afraid of similar situations, which he/she then avoids.
Through operant conditioning, this avoidance behavior is maintained because it reduces the fear experienced by the individual.
People suffering from this phobia have unreasonably high criteria for their performance and unrealistic beliefs about adverse consequences that their social behavior can result in.
They focus excessive attention on themselves and how they perform in social situations, which leads to less concern for others, creating a vicious circle.
What you should know about Social Phobia
How can it be treated?
The treatment of Social Phobia is more complicated than that of Specific Phobias.
Current research suggests that therapy is helpful, but for many people only leads to a partial reduction of stress.
Exposure techniques (imaginal and in vivo) are effective treatments for Social Phobia.
Treatments of this type often start with role-playing or practice with the therapist or in small treatment groups, before the patient is exposed to more public and social situations.
Additionally, a combination of these treatments with the appropriate medication has been shown to eliminate the anxiety associated with Social Phobia.