Most of us are familiar with the feeling of discomfort or being nervous in a social situation. Perhaps we have clammed up or had sweaty palms on our first meeting with a person or prior to making a presentation. Yes, public speaking or entering a roomful of strangers is not actually a thrilling experience for everyone, however, most people are able to get through it. When you find that these situations begin to cause you a great deal of stress, you may have social phobia, otherwise known as social anxiety disorder or SAD.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme fear or anxiety in one or multiple social settings. The symptoms differ from person to person, but here are the most common of them.
You may experience rapid heartbeat, sweating, racing thoughts, muscle tension, dizziness or light-headedness, crying, inability to catch your breath, and even an out-of-body sensation. If your case is more severe, you may even isolate yourself entirely.
When Does it Happen?
For some with the disorder, they become anxious whenever they have to speak in public or initiate a conversation. For others, basically, any social situation ranging from speaking to strangers, dating, establishing eye contact, entering rooms to attending parties, eating in the presence of others, and even going to work or school, triggers their symptoms.
Merely glancing through the symptoms and triggers makes it easy to self-diagnose. I would not consider my case to be severe, however, I struggle with delivering speeches publicly, and socializing in crowded spaces.
Socially anxious people dread certain situations for a number of reasons. There is the fear of being observed and judged by others, accidentally offending someone, being the center of attention, being embarrassed, or humiliated, which is often accompanied by blushing, sweating, and trembling.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Several factors can contribute to SAD however, more often than not, genetics is responsible. So, if a family member of yours has social phobia, you are at a higher risk of developing it too. It could also be as a consequence of having an overactive amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls your response to fear. Other causes include a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. If you have SAD, chances are that you were shy as a kid, or you had overbearing or controlling parents.
What Can I Do About Social Anxiety Disorder?
In my opinion, the first step to overcoming social anxiety is to be intentional about addressing it, because if neglected, can deteriorate to the point of costing you certain career opportunities, friendships, and intimate relationships. Doing nothing about it can also drive a person into isolation, which could lead to depression over time, as a result of missing out on lots of great opportunities.
SAD can be incapacitating, and the best treatment approach involves cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), medication, and/or self-help strategies.
In the next blog post, we will explore some of them.