Social Anxiety Disorder
It’s the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. This disorder is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized: Read about the difference.
Symptoms may be so extreme that they disrupt daily life. People with this disorder, also called social phobia, may have few or no social or romantic relationships, making them feel powerless, alone, or even ashamed.
- About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder
- Typical age of onset: 13 years old
- 36 percent of people with social anxiety disorder report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help
Although they recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, people with social anxiety disorder feel powerless against their anxiety. They are terrified they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.
The anxiety can interfere significantly with daily routines, occupational performance, or social life, making it difficult to complete school, interview and get a job, and have friendships and romantic relationships.
Social anxiety disorder usually begins in childhood or adolescence, and children are prone to clinging behavior, tantrums, and even mutism.
Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea or other abdominal distress, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, headaches, and feelings of detachment and loss of self-control.
Everyone can relate to feeling anxious before giving a presentation or asking someone out on a date. But those with social anxiety disorder experience an intense fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others in social or performance situations. Some literally feel sick from fear in seemingly nonthreatening situations.
The disorder is often selective. Some people may have an intense fear of talking to a salesperson or giving a speech, but they may be comfortable in other similar settings.
Other people may become anxious during routine activities such as starting a conversation with a stranger or a person in authority, participating in meetings or classes, or dating and attending parties.
Like other anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder can be treated.
Most people find significant improvement with professional care. Treatment success varies among people. Some may respond to treatment after a few months, while other people may need more than a year.
Treatment can be complicated if a person has more than one anxiety disorder or suffers from depression or substance abuse, which is why it must be tailored to the individual.
Although treatment is individualized, several standard approaches have proved effective. Therapists will use one or a combination of these therapies.
Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)