Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms And Treatment Options
Social anxiety disorder occurs when an individual has excessive fears and unreasonable anxiety when involved in social situations. Also referred to by the name social phobia, this anxiety disorder is more than just the common uneasiness that one feels in front of people at certain times. The extreme self consciousness and the intense nervousness that develop in these individuals can cause them to avoid social situations that trigger these feelings.
It is normal for a person to feel shy and nervous when in front of a crowd, when attending an interview, or giving a speech. However, for a person who has social phobia, the feelings of shyness and self-consciousness build into a powerful fear that makes him/her avoid everyday social situations such as chatting with colleagues at the workplace lunch table, avoid making eye contact with others, etc. It is thus a chronic psycho-pathological problem that is distressing and reduces the quality of life of the individual.
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The exact causes of social phobia are not clearly known. However, if a parent is known to suffer from social phobia, the child stands a higher chance of developing the disorder. Some medical experts also attribute the occurrence of the disorders to neurobiological causes such as an imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies have also indicated that specific areas in the brain such as the amygdala are more active in persons suffering from social phobia.
Social causes and life experiences also seem to contribute to the build-up of social phobia. Negative experiences that occur in one’s life and the individual’s reaction to them are seen to lead some into developing social anxiety. Regularly exposed to situations where the person feels inferior may lead to development of negative feelings about oneself and low self esteem. This can later lead on to social phobia. Children who lead very protected and sheltered lives and do not learn required social skills as part of their development have more chances of developing the disorder.
Social Phobia – Symptoms
Those suffering from social anxiety disorder experience or display a variety of differing mental and physical symptoms: Most social situations of everyday life cause feelings of fears and anxiety that cause the individual to keep thinking about them to the point of feeling panicky and he/she would go to great lengths to avoid such situations. The individual always feels they are closely watched, criticized or judged by others.
The affected person feels anticipatory anxiety – the fear that a situation may bring upon some undesirable effect even before it happens – sometimes as early as a fortnight before the event. The person may know that the fear has no reasonable cause but is not able to get rid of the anxiety. They are prone to have distorted thinking about certain situations and tend to develop negative opinions about others.
Most individuals with social phobia have irrational fears about more than one social situation. Common physical symptoms include sweating, pounding of the heart, muscle tension, diarrhea, blushing, upset stomach, shaking, confusion, etc. Social phobia is sometimes linked to mental disorders like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, etc. It is estimated that an approximated 19.2 million Americans suffer from the disorder. It commonly surfaces during adolescence and sometimes during early adulthood. However, it can occur even during childhood. More women are seen to suffer from social phobia than men.
Social Phobia – Treatment Options
There are no laboratory tests to diagnose social anxiety disorder. Generally, a diagnosis is made by the medical specialist by a discussion of the medical history of the patient and making a physical exam. In case of absence of any physical illness, the patient may be referred to a psychiatrist or a psychologist who makes a series of assessments and interviews using specially designed tools to evaluate the individual for social anxiety disorder as well as the degree of dysfunction.
To treat social phobia, the most effective method currently available is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is also used in conjunction with medications (in some cases) to make it more effective. In yet other cases, only drugs may be used for treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims at desensitizing the person systematically by real-life exposure to the dreaded situation. The individual is taught to react differently when encountering a situation that triggers social anxiety. The treatment is aimed at working through the simulated social situation that caused panic in a relaxed manner in a more protected and safer environment (the therapist’s clinic).
Several types of drugs are used for the treatment of social phobia including antidepressants (Paxil), tranquilizers and benzodiazepines (Ativan and Klonopin), and beta blockers to reduce heartbeat and involuntary shaking. Regular counseling to improve self esteem and use of relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises and meditation are also seen to help.
Social Phobia – Self Help Treatment
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