Are You Socially Anxious?
Help, reassurance, and guidance to be found in this article.
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder as it's more commonly known, is a mental illness in which the sufferer has a persistent, overwhelming and (normally) unreasonable fear of social situations. I, myself, suffer from this mental illness and can tell you it's much more than merely “being shy”. This disorder is crippling, debilitating and stops me enjoying everyday life. I excessively worry about every social interaction I have to carry out for hours (sometimes days) beforehand, during, and for a very long time afterwards – which can be up to years sometimes.
So, what exactly is anxiety? The Oxford Dictionary offers a definition for anxiety describing it as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” Which, as you can probably imagine, can seriously disable a person's life. People with a specific type of Anxiety, (as opposed to GAD, which stands for Generalised Anxiety Disorder, a long term condition that causes excessive anxiety and worry relating to a variety of situations) such as Social Phobia, will struggle (and by struggle I mean experience intense fear and anxiety) to do anything involving a simple social interaction some examples are; phoning up a doctor or a dentist surgery to make an appointment, talking to a cashier at a till whilst paying for shopping, ordering food at a restaurant, speaking to a neighbour.
The NHS Choices website offer us a more medical explanation saying that “Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.” Social Anxiety Disorder is known as a complex phobia as it serious affects a person's confidence and self-esteem which can lead to a serious interfere with childhood relationships and negatively impair school, or work, performance. People suffering from Social Phobia fear doing or saying something that they think will be embarrassing, such as blushing, sweating, or appearing incompetent and stupid.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder are as follows; dreading every day activities (meeting strangers, speaking on the telephone, talking in groups, starting a conversation, asking for help, talking to an authority figure like a doctor or teacher), having low self-esteem, feeling very insecure about their relationships and will need constant reassurance, avoiding eye contact, having an immense fear of being criticised, suffering from “Anxiety Attacks” — which are similar to the more commonly known Panic Attack.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack can be anything from nausea to uncontrollable trembling to copious sweating to hearing your heart beating hard and loud in your ears.
This answers my question, what is anxiety? But what about the causes? Why does this happen and, more importantly, why are most people able to cope in social situations (no matter how embarrassing)?
Social Phobia, like any phobia, is associated with a number of different genetic and environmental factors. Disorders, like Anxiety, often run in families and a person is more likely to have this mental illness if another close family member is affected. Social Phobia can also be a result of a learned behaviour. If another parent or older family member is displaying a fear of social interaction (acting overly worried and anxious) a child is most likely to learn that particular behaviour.
Social Anxiety Disorder can be, and is more likely, caused by a particular incident that left the person with emotional or physical trauma. For example, it's the first day of high school and the dining hall is very busy, you've just paid for a big tray of food and you're walking to a table to eat it. A sudden change in balance and you trip up, dropping your plate and cutlery all over the floor with a resounding crash and clatter.
Everyone stops talking to one another, everything goes silent, and all eyes are on you. Your heart stops. Then, every single person in the room starts to point and laugh at you — causing you to cry (which some of the meaner kids decide make fun of, like you weren't hating yourself enough already) and you flee the dining hall, scared of ever returning.
The cause of my social anxiety has developed from being bullied at primary and high school from the ages of six to fourteen. Having a number of kids, for a number of years, making me feel the way I looked and the way I acted was incorrect has left me with emotional trauma that has developed into Social Anxiety Disorder.
Also, after many years of keeping my disorder to myself, I spoke to my mother and I discovered that my father suffered with the condition as well. Although, I had no idea my father suffered like I did so I wouldn't have learned this particular behaviour from him, the idea that Social Phobia could be genetic is prevalent in my case.
The first step to getting treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder is to be diagnosed by your GP. This is obviously going to cause a problem for sufferers as they are genuinely petrified of talking to one, a stranger or somebody they don't have a close personal relationship with and two, a doctor is an authority figure.
I struggle with just the thought of going to the doctor's for an appointment, especially to talk about the way I feel (I'm starting to sweat and my heart rate has increased slightly at just the thought), and I couldn't organise myself a telephone doctor's appointment either as I am scared of speaking to anyone, even family members, over the phone. This is a problem for most people who suffer with Social Phobia and I have been under the influence of this condition for years and I have yet to be diagnosed because I can't make a doctor's appointment myself, let alone go to one.
If, you're much braver than I am, and have been able to make a doctor's appointment and have been diagnosed there are a number of treatment options available to you. The first, and most effective, is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
This treatment works by helping you rationalise your fears through identifying unrealistic and unnatural behaviours then, with the help of a therapist, you will work on changing these behaviours and replace them with more realistic and “normal” ones. CBT will teach you new skills and will help you understand how to react more positively to situations that would normally cause you anxiety and fear.
Another treatment is drug-based which has proven to help a number of people suffering with Social Anxiety Disorder. You will be prescribed a form of antidepressant drug, whether it be a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor) or something else, taken on a long-term basis. As is the case with all antidepressants, SSRI can take several weeks to start working effectively.
Your GP will usually start you on a low dose and, as your body gets used to the new medicine, the dose will gradually be increased. However, there are some side effects to using drugs as a treatment as you can become addicted to them and it's been found that some patients have struggled to stop taking their prescribed drugs. Another, and the most important, problem is that drugs treat the symptoms of Social Phobia and not the cause itself.
If you've been reading this article and thinking, “Hey, that's me! That's how I feel!” then feel free to visit The Social Anxiety Institute website and take their free test for Social Anxiety Disorder. Find the link here: https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/test-social-anxiety-disorder-find-out-if-you-suffer-social-phobia