Social Anxiety Disorder
Are you self-conscious and scared of being judged by others? Do you find it difficult to do things when others are watching? Do have major anxiety when meeting new people? If you caught yourself nodding your head while reading any of those questions, then you may have a social anxiety disorder. But what exactly is a social anxiety disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a social anxiety disorder, is a mental health condition that usually starts during a person’s teenage years. A person with social anxiety disorder symptoms feels anxiety or fear in certain (or sometimes all) social situations. This includes meeting new people, answering questions at school, talking to coworkers, dating, or conversing with a cashier in a store.
How to tell if you have a social anxiety disorder
It is normal to feel uncomfortable in social situations where you have to interact with other people. However, how would you know if you’re simply experiencing a feeling of being uncomfortable or if you have a social anxiety disorder? There a few common telltale signs. The following are physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that are typically associated with social anxiety disorders:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomach Trouble
- Muscle Tension
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms
- Fear of being judged by others
- Intense fear that other people will notice that you’re nervous
- Worrying that you’re going to embarrass yourself
- Fear of talking to strangers
- Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
- Showing a rigid body posture and making little eye contact
How social anxiety disorder affects your life
People with social anxiety disorder have a higher risk of substance abuse, self-medication, and depression. If the disorder is untreated, it may have substantial “real world” consequences such as social isolation and avoidance behavior. And, it may even worsen to the point of agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder where an individual perceives their environment to be unsafe). This may lead to decreased control over life, diminished choices, and increased stress. And these “social consequences” can lead to “outside in” stressors to the brain and body, which a person with untreated social anxiety disorder is often ill-equipped to deal with. And the reason they’re usually not equipped to deal with it is because of the condition itself and their lack of learning due to social isolation.
The high levels of anxiety and vigilance that are often part of the condition can be conceptualized as causing “inside out” stress to the brain-body system of homeostasis. And it’s important to know that the high levels of anxiety that arise are not easily controlled by just “working on it“. Additionally, the high levels of vigilance can cause dysregulation of the HPA axis, which is a subsystem in our body. The high levels of vigilance can also increase Cortisol and other stress hormone levels. The hormone levels act on areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation, fearfulness, executive functioning and filtering stimuli that requires vigilance and recruitment of the stress response – and most importantly, it determines when it can be turned down and the restorative parasympathetic nervous system can be engaged.
Treatments for social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety is not that common (research suggests that only about 7% of Americans are affected). However, for those who do have social anxiety, without treatment, the disorder can last for many years and prevent people from reaching their full potential. That is why it is very important to seek out help (simply talk to your doctor or a mental health professional) if some of the social anxiety symptoms mentioned above sound like things that you deal with.
There are numerous ways to treat social anxiety disorder. One of the most effective ways is with the right medication and therapy. It would be best if you talk to your doctor about the symptoms. The first step to effective treatment is to have a diagnosis made. Or you can ask your doctor to refer you to an anxiety disorder psychiatrist in your area, and the psychiatrist can help you find a treatment plan that works best for you. Here are some of the treatment options that a psychiatrist who specializes in anxiety disorders may suggest:
One type of psychotherapy that is used for treating social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It works by changing people’s attitudes and behavior. This is done by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes that are held in a person’s cognitive processes. Then, it focuses on how these processes relate to the way a person behaves when dealing with emotional problems or situations.
Attending Support Groups
A person with a social anxiety disorder can also attend support groups. At support groups, everyone participates in activities that are mildly anxiety-inducing in an attempt to build confidence and receive feedback on how others see them. By participating in different kinds of activities, you can learn how others with social anxiety disorders overcome the fear of some social situations and you can apply their approach to your situation.
Another way of treating social anxiety disorder is through medications. You can take anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. These drugs may have side effects. It is important to consult a specialist first before taking any of these medicines.
Anti-anxiety medications are very powerful. And they usually kick in right away to help with reducing anxiety. However, anti-anxiety medications are usually only prescribed for a short amount of time; they aren’t a long-term solution. The reason why is because patients usually build up a tolerance if the medication is taken over a long period of time. And sometimes it leads to a person needing a continuation of higher dosages every time they need a refill.
Antidepressants are typically used to treat depression, but they can also help to alleviate social anxiety disorder symptoms. However, this type of medication usually takes a bit longer to start working (usually a few weeks). There are some side effects, such as trouble sleeping and nausea, however, the side effects are usually manageable for most people. And Beta-blockers usually help with preventing the physical symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder such as sweating and tremors.
If you are diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, it is important to give your treatment ample time to work. Don’t give up on your treatment plan too fast; be patient and give it time.
If you’re in the southern California area and you’re interested in learning more about social anxiety disorders and how to effectively treat it, contact Dr. Mark Herbst. Dr. Herbst is a board-certified psychiatrist in Los Angeles, California. He provides the best treatment and care for your physical and mental health, and he is well-versed in helping patients combat anxiety.