Have you ever found yourself walking through a public mall where you feel you’re the center of attention and everyone is watching you? Or maybe you’ve been to a dinner event and become so self conscious that the other diners are watching your every move that you’ve been too nervous to enjoy yourself. If these or similar situations have happened to you, you could be suffering from social anxiety disorder or SAD.
Social anxiety is the abnormal, excessive, and unreasonable fear of common social interactions. It is the anxiety of being judged by others. Social anxiety is a general fear of being around people and having to interact with them. Over 15 million Americans suffer from this disorder which manifests itself in feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, nervousness, and anxiety to the point where they can’t function normally in public situations.
SAD sufferers typically have low self esteem and an overriding fear of rejection. SAD can also prevent sufferers from forming personal relationships with others and cause tensions in existing relationships because of their fear of being embarrassed in social situations. They can become house hermits walling themselves off normal social contacts with people. They can be acutely aware that their symptoms are irrational and yet be unable to do anything about them.
Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is not very well understood by the general public or even health care professionals. It is often confused with shyness because shy people often fell uncomfortable in public situations and uneasy around people as well. But shy people don’t necessarily experience the intense feelings of anxiety that a person suffering from SAD will. Also, people who have been diagnosed as having social anxiety are not necessarily shy.
Another reason that social anxiety disorder can be difficult to diagnose is that it’s physical symptoms vary among different people. Some common symptoms are blushing, nausea, trembling, dry mouth, twitching, hot flashes, and sweating. In full blown episodes of anxiety, the psychological dread can result in a sense of panic so extreme that it may trigger a panic attack.
There is no single known cause of social anxiety disorder, but some studies indicate that social anxiety disorder may be triggered by a chemical imbalance caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain.
The most common treatment for those suffering from social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. In this therapy, the therapist works closely with the patient both to help him identify his fears and to provide him with coping mechanism to combat them. CBT also is helpful in improving the self-esteem and social skills of the sufferer. CBT has been effective in treating many but not all patients.
In cases where CBT has not been effective, drugs such as Paroxetine may be prescribed for social anxiety symptoms. Other types of prescribed medications that have been used to treat SAD are antidepressants such as Paxil, Librim, Valium, and others.
Unfortunately many SAD suffers often never seek the help that could alleviate their symptoms because they either don’t realize that they have the disorder or they don’t realize that help is available for them.