Social anxiety disorder is a disorder which causes people to feel a sometimes overwhelming sense of anxiety in everyday interactions with other people. It is also sometimes referred to as Social Phobia.
People who experience social anxiety, often feel very self-conscious in social situations and may worry that they are being judged, scrutinised or criticised by others. This often leads them to avoid social situations altogether and therefore can cause significant distress and disruption to people’s lives.
Social anxiety disorder often starts during teenage years, or young adulthood. It can be a result of the way people have been treated, for example if they have been bullied. It can also be the result of a negative social experience, for example if something very embarrassing has happened to someone in a social situation, they may worry that it will happen again.
When people struggle with social anxiety, they often feel as though they do not have very good social skills. They might worry that they are boring, or will not have anything to say to people. They might also pay lots of attention to their feelings of anxiety, and worry that other people can also notice that they are anxious.
It is very much normal to want to be accepted as part of a group, and as human beings, we have evolved to be social animals as it is helpful for our survival to be part of a group and to have people to support us, help us, or look after us in times of need. It is therefore essentially in our genes to want to be accepted and to have the approval of other people. Social anxiety might make people more sensitive to this need for approval and they may be more afraid of others not approving of them, or of being rejected by people.
Some of the common symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder include:
Symptoms vary between individuals, but they usually include:
- Feeling worried or anxious about everyday activities where you might meet or talk to other people, for example going to the shops, talking on the phone, meeting people who are strangers.
- Avoiding social situations or activities, for example, you might cancel plans with friends or make up an excuse for why you can’t see them. You might avoid specific activities that cause you the most anxiety, such as parties or attending conferences.
- Worrying that you will do something embarrassing in front of others, or that they will think you are stupid.
- Finding it difficult to do things when you are being observed by somebody.
- Physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating, feeling hot, heart racing, trembling, stomach-churning, and struggling to speak.
- Fear of being criticised.
- Avoiding eye contact with people.
- Having panic attacks in social situations, where you experience and overwhelming sense of anxiety.
What type of therapy can help?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used type of therapy for Social Anxiety. This type of therapy can help people to identify unhelpful thoughts or beliefs that may be contributing to their anxiety, as well as specific behaviours that might be maintaining anxiety – such as avoidance. CBT can help people learn to reframe their thoughts into more helpful, adaptive beliefs.
Often people with social anxiety describe themselves as being in a vicious cycle – for example, they feel anxious about seeing people so they avoid people. This then leads them to feel even more anxious about seeing people, and so the cycle of avoidance continues. CBT helps people to break out of this vicious cycle.
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