Your Guide to Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

— Dr. M Van Ameringen, Dr. Jean Goulet —
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What is Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)?

Are you afraid of going to parties or social gatherings? Does the fear that you'll say or do something "stupid" stop you from meeting new people? Do you feel as though people are constantly judging you? If so, you're not alone. While feeling anxious in social situations is normal, some people find these situations unbearable, causing extreme anxiety to the point that they avoid any and all situations that involve interacting with others.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder feel an unreasonable amount of fear or anxiety in social or performance situations. The fear and anxiety is so intense that it can cripple their ability to develop friendships, strain their family relations or impair their ability to function at school or work.

Nearly half of all people who develop the disorder show symptoms like trembling, rapid heartbeat or blushing while they are children. Almost all have symptoms by age 20. After living with the anxiety and fear for a number of years, sufferers come to believe that "it's just the way I am". Their symptoms are ignored because they, and others, consider the symptoms only to be "excessive shyness" or some other character flaw. The reality is that Social Anxiety Disorder is a medical illness. And it can last a lifetime if left untreated.

Ignoring the problem can cripple a person's life. People with Social Anxiety Disorder often suffer alone, as they are unable to meet people or get help for their disorder. If you think you have Social Anxiety Disorder, it is important to understand that it is not your fault and that help is available. There are a number of treatments available that can help you control your anxiety. For more information, talk to your doctor. Remember, you are not alone.

The truth about Social Anxiety Disorder

  • One in seven people have Social Anxiety Disorder.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is the third most common psychiatric disorder.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is a medical illness.
  • It is not your fault you feel this way.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is treatable.

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

The exact cause of Social Anxiety Disorder is unknown; however researchers believe that it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the area of the brain that regulates thinking and mood. What researchers do know about Social Anxiety Disorder is that it tends to run in families, and some people develop Social Anxiety Disorder after a childhood trauma that creates tear and anxiety.

How can I tell if I have Social Anxiety Disorder?

People with Social Anxiety Disorder feel intense, crippling fear when faced with meeting new people, speaking in front of a group, eating in restaurants, using a public washroom, talking on the telephone at work or home, especially if others can hear your conversation, or performing a job while being supervised.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder often experience a great deal of fear and anxiety before, during, and after social or performance situations.

This fear and anxiety can appear as physical symptoms. The following is a list of the physical symptoms most often experienced by people with Social Anxiety Disorder:

  • Blushing
  • Stammering
  • Trembling
  • Blocked speech
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Panic attacks

People with Social Anxiety Disorder may be especially sensitive to criticism, often finding it difficult to be assertive. It is not uncommon for people with Social Anxiety Disorder to suffer low self-esteem.

Many people with Social Anxiety Disorder often avoid situations where they will likely have to interact with other people. In the short-term, avoiding the feared situation helps to lower the amount of anxiety they feel. However, over the long-term, avoiding such situations begins to reinforce the anticipatory anxiety and the avoidance behavior — creating a vicious cycle.