Sometimes known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a surprisingly common form of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience intense anxiety in some or all of their social interactions in everyday life. Given this, social anxiety can be defined as the persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which one is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others, and where exposure to such situations provokes intense anxiety.
It should be noted that some level of anxiety in social situations at times is very normal.
Individuals who suffer from social anxiety typically have a stronger than usual desire to make a good social impression. We all like to think we are making a favourable social impression! Unfortunately, they also fear that they are not as good socially as other people and will fail to come up to an acceptable standard of social behaviour – that they will not make the favourable impression they so crave.
In this sense, social anxiety can be understood as an intense fear of embarrassment. Individuals with social anxiety experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms of anxiety from muscle tension, increased heart rate and dizziness to nausea, dry mouth, and breathlessness. However, of particular concern to them in social situations are the clearly visible signs of anxiety such as blushing, perspiring, shaking and stammering.
The Social Situation
Individuals with social anxiety tend to either avoid or endure with severe anxiety or distress these much-feared situations. Because the anxiety is so intense and distressing, it’s much easier just to stay away from social situations and avoid other people altogether. Individuals can isolate themselves to such an extent that they give up work and remain at home.
In some circumstances their social contact can narrow down to their immediate family or in extreme circumstances to no one at all. This then can lead to feelings of sadness and even depression. Others can turn to alcohol in an attempt to ease their social discomfort and this can lead to serious problems with alcohol misuse and dependency.
Unfortunately, the avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress experienced in social situations interferes greatly with the individual’s normal routine at work, in school, during social activities, and/or in relationships.
Most individuals with social anxiety have jobs that are well beneath their capabilities and capacities because of their social concerns: the nightmare of job interviews, the agony of working in a job where there is a lot of public contact or the dread of being promoted to a position of authority over other or that involves team meetings or formal presentations.
It is important to note that individuals who suffer from social anxiety do recognise that their fear is unreasonable and/or excessive, but try as they do they cannot simply stop themselves having these irrational or excessive concerns. Finally, without proper treatment social anxiety tends to develop into a longstanding and unremitting condition.
Behavioral & Emotional Symptoms:
- Anxiety reaches such a point that daily tasks, school, work and activities become affected
- Avoiding situations where the sufferer feels he/she may be the center of attention
- Kids with possible SA tend to be worried about being embarrassed in front of peers
- Considerable fear of being in situations with strangers (people the sufferer does not know)
- Dread over how they will be presented to others
- Excessive fear of being teased or criticized
- Excessive fear that other people may notice that the sufferer looks anxious
- Excessive worry about being anxious, which makes the anxiety worse
- Excessive worry about embarrassment and humiliation
- Fear of meeting people in authority
- Having severe anxiety or panic attacks when in the feared situation
- Refraining from doing certain things or talking to people because of a fear of embarrassment
- The individual worries excessively about being in situations where he/she may be judged
- When in a situation that causes anxiety the sufferer’s mind may go blank
Physical Signs and Symptoms:
- A feeling that the heart is either pounding too hard or fluttering (palpitations)
- Abdominal pain and/or stomach upset
- Avoiding eye contact
- Children with SA may weep, have tantrums, cling to parents, or shut themselves out
- Clammy hands
- Cold hands
- Difficulty talking; this may include a shaky voice
- Dry mouth
- Dry throat
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension
Mindfulness & Relaxation Training: Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy
Mindfulness and relaxation training can be very helpful in minimising the disabling effect of bodily symptoms during periods of anxiety. A number of useful strategies will be taught in order to approach problematic thoughts associated with your condition. Another area of intervention is helping you to become more aware of the vicious circle of avoidance. You will be trained in a variety of strategies to equip you to face anxiety provoking situations in small, manageable steps. Throughout all these endeavours you will be supported and psychotherapy will be conducted at a pace comfortable for you