social anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder

Written by: Melissa Hart

15 - 20 Million People in the U.S. are Affected by Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder, also referred to as social phobia, affects approximately 15 to 20 million people in the United States alone and is the most common of all anxiety disorders. While most everyone, at some time or another, has felt a sense of uneasiness or anxiousness in certain social situations, those with this type of disorder have an intense fear of those same situations and may go to great lengths to avoid them.

Social Anxiety Affects More Men than Women
Affecting women more than men, social anxiety disorder causes a person to have irrational or unreasonable fears coupled with intense feelings of self-consciousness and nervousness. The most common symptoms of the disorder are:

- Avoidance of social situations or interacting with others. - Feeling intense anxiety when faced with social situations.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder may mean having a fear of public speaking, or of meeting new people, dealing with authority figures, or even eating in front of others or using public restrooms. Some people with the disorder may also have a variety of other phobias or fears including:

- Writing or working in front of other people. - Being the center of attention, for any reason. - Asking questions in front of a group. - Talking on the telephone.

May be Linked to Other Conditions Such as Depression and OCD
Usually surfacing in childhood or during the early adolescence years, social anxiety disorder may be a condition where genetics play a larger role than we once realized. This type of anxiety disorder may also be linked to other conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic disorder.

Some of the physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include:

- Profuse sweating
- Blushing
- Heart palpitations, racing pulse
- Trembling or shaking uncontrollably
- Tense muscles
- Nausea
- Diarrhea
- Difficulty speaking
- Confusion
- Crying

Causes of Social Anxiety
While there is no exact cause for social anxiety disorder, researchers do believe that a combination of factors, including biological, psychological, and also environmental, may determine whether or not a person develops the disorder.

Psychological Factors
Psychological factors, including repeated feelings of embarrassment or humiliation, may lead to the disorder, as well as environmental cues, such as learning the behavior from a parent. Also, children who are overly protected by parents may not develop the necessary social skills needed for normal, healthy development.

Biological Factors
The biological factors that may attribute to social anxiety disorder stem from within the cells of the brain. An imbalance of serotonin, which is a chemical messenger of sorts known as a neurotransmitter, alters the way we react to certain things, such as stressful situations. Without enough serotonin, the brain's cells aren't able to send the proper messages to one another, causing disorders such as this and depression.

Treatments for Social Anxiety
The two most often used treatment methods for controlling or eliminating social anxiety disorder are medication therapy and or psychotherapy.

Medication therapy
There are several medications used for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, some of which are most effective when used in conjunction with some type of psychotherapy. Antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, tranquilizers, and even beta-blockers, which are normally used to treat certain heart conditions, are most commonly prescribed.

Behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to gradually help the person reintroduce themselves to situations that once caused high levels of anxiety through a series of positive and rational thoughts.

Systematic Desensitization
Another method known as systematic desensitization may be used in which the therapist guides the person through an imagined situation, working through their fears and realizing those fears are unfounded while in a safe, non-threatening environment. Other types of counseling may be necessary to improve social skills and self-esteem, in addition to implementing various deep breathing and relaxation techniques.


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