Social Anxiety Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a disorder that makes a person anxious in social situations. People who suffer from social anxiety disorder feel awkward or uncomfortable in social situations. This causes them to shut down and act in a way that may seem strange to others. A person with social anxiety disorder may cross their arms or avoid eye contact with others. They also may be very quiet, stutter, or act inappropriately out of nervousness.

There are many situations that will cause a person with social anxiety to feel anxious. The anxiety can sometimes cause panic attacks or emotional outbursts. Such situations that are uncomfortable for people who suffer from social anxiety disorder include:

  • Speaking in public
  • Parties or social gatherings
  • Group interactions, projects and conversations
  • Meeting and making small talk with new people
  • Using the telephone
  • Confrontation
  • Team exercises
  • Dating
  • Everyday errands and interactions
  • Crowds or cramped rooms

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Like all anxiety disorders, social anxiety causes feelings like nervousness, fear, and apprehension. Social anxiety also causes symptoms like:

  • The intense urge to escape from a social situation
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Lightheadedness or inability to concentrate on conversations
  • Distractibility
  • Panic
  • Avoidance of social situations or interactions
  • Poor self-image, seeing self as awkward, embarrassing or unwanted
  • Fear or assumption of being judged
  • Paranoia about what others may be saying or thinking about them
  • Overanalyzing social interactions

Causes and Risk Factors of Social Anxiety

A person with social anxiety may or may not have a triggering event that causes the anxiety. Some may have been bullied as children or had relationship issues in the home. Some may not have properly developed social skills and communication skills. Some may just be introverted and get nervous around others.

Each person with social anxiety will be triggered by different situations. Some may be uncomfortable in crowded spaces or groups, while others feel uncomfortable in intimate settings. Some may feel uncomfortable when approached by others, and some may only feel mildly anxious in most situations.

For each individual case of social anxiety there are different ways to cope. A person who has social anxiety may decide to seek the help of a mental health professional to learn skills for handling social situations.

Social anxiety can be caused by many different factors. People who suffer from social anxiety often suffer from:

  • Another form of anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression or other mood disorders
  • Insecurity
  • Poor self-image

Treatment for Social Anxiety

Seeking professional counseling for social anxiety disorder is an effective way to learn how to cope. Treatment for social anxiety helps people identify their ‘problem-situations’ that make them feel uncomfortable. It aims to restructure thoughts and behaviors to reduce anxiety when around people. A person with social anxiety will likely need individual counseling, and many also participate in group therapy sessions. While it may seem counterintuitive, group therapy is an effective option for the treatment of social anxiety disorder.

The most effective form of therapy for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that helps people recognize their errors in thinking. CBT helps with those who suffer from social anxiety by correcting anxious thoughts. People with social anxiety tend to make incorrect assumptions about social situations, like:

  • Predicting the outcome of situations
  • Feeling that he or she is being awkward and making others uncomfortable
  • Assuming they know that others are thinking negatively about them
  • Fearing being confronted with an uncomfortable or unpleasant issue when interacting with others

With CBT, the patient learns how to correct these errors in thinking. This reduces anxiety and helps the patient feel more comfortable in social situations.

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