Social Anxiety Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on February 19th, 2019

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a disorder that makes a person anxious in social situations. People with so-cial anxiety disorder feel awkward and uncomfortable in social settings. This causes them to shut down and act in a way that may seem strange to others.

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. It can also prevent a person from making friends or dating.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Like all anxiety disorders, social anxiety causes feelings like nervousness, fear, and apprehension. These feelings can cause discomfort for the affected person. The level of discomfort ranges from mild to severe.

Social anxiety causes symptoms like:

  • The intense urge to escape from a social situation
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Anxiety and nervous thoughts
  • Lightheadedness
  • Inability to concentrate on conversations
  • Distractibility
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoidance of social situations and 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

A person with social anxiety disorder may show their discomfort by:

  • Crossing their arms
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Staying very quiet in conversation
  • Stuttering
  • Not engaging in conversation
  • Acting inappropriately out of nervousness

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 while growing up. 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 is triggered by different situations. Such situations that may trigger social anxiety include:

  • Crowded spaces
  • Groups
  • Intimate settings
  • Being approached by others
  • Expecting to perform
  • Being confronted by others

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

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

Living with Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder struggle in different types of social settings. It can be a challenge to feel comfortable when around others. A person with social anxiety will feel like there is a spotlight on them. They will be uncomfortable with themselves and people around them.

People with social phobia struggle at varying degrees. What may be challenging for one person may not be for another person.

Situations that may be uncomfortable for people with 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 and cramped rooms

The challenges that come with social anxiety disorder causes challenges with making friends. People with social anxiety disorder often feel alienated from others. They struggle to establish relationships and feel like they belong.

Treatment for Social Anxiety

Professional counseling for social anxiety disorder helps people learn how to cope. Treatment for social anxiety helps people identify their ‘problem-situations’. Problems situations are situations that make them feel uncomfortable.

A person with social anxiety will likely need individual counseling. Many also participate in group therapy. Group therapy is an effective option for the treatment of social anxiety disorder.

The best form of therapy for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT 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 they are 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 affected person learns how to correct these errors in thinking. This reduces anxiety and helps them feel more comfortable in social situations.

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