Social anxiety disorder, also known as “social phobia,” is a disorder characterized by intense self-consciousness and nervousness in certain public situations. For some sufferers of social anxiety disorder, the situations that trigger symptoms may be fairly specific, such as having to initiate conversation with strangers or being the center of attention in a public place.
For others, even the most mundane interactions â€” like ordering food in a restaurant or purchasing items from a store clerk â€” can evoke strong anxiety symptoms. In these severe cases, the fear of being faced with a provoking situation keeps people with social anxiety disorder in a state of chronic stress whenever they’re out in public.
Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
The behavioral symptoms of social anxiety disorder often center around avoidance. The person may avoid speaking with strangers or avoid participating in a group discussion. Any situation that is likely to trigger anxiety and fear is strongly avoided, even if it means missing out on something pleasurable.
This avoidance behavior is driven by fear. People with social anxiety disorder often have an irrational fear of being judged or rejected by others. They worry that they’ll say the wrong thing or do something embarrassing. Even the fear of being perceived as nervous can heighten their anxiety.
Sufferers experience physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder when they’re placed in one of the situations that triggers their fears. These physical symptoms often include:
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- A rapid heart beat
- Shaky/trembling hands
- Trouble speaking clearly.
Because people with social anxiety disorder avoid situations that trigger their symptoms, they may appear symptomless for long periods of time. Eventually, however, unavoidable situations arise and bring on symptoms once again. For this reason, therapists encourage sufferers of social anxiety disorder to seek treatment for their condition rather than always relying on avoidance.
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder can be treated with medication, psychotherapy or, quite commonly, a combination of both.
The medications most often prescribed by physicians for social anxiety disorder belong to a class of antidepressants called “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs). Symptoms may persist for several weeks or months before these medications have any effect, but they are safe and often effective for treating social anxiety disorder.
Other types of antidepressants may be prescribed if an SSRI is not yielding satisfactory results. In some cases, patients may take anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) to help them cope with their symptoms during stressful social situations.
The two approaches for treating panic disorder are medications and psychotherapy. Typically, one approach or the other is initially prescribed. If symptoms persist, a physician may recommend a combination of medication and therapy.
The type of psychotherapy typically employed for treating social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy. This kind of therapy focuses on changing patients’ thought patterns about facing social situations and their reactions to these situations.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). Retrieved July 18, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/social-anxiety-disorder/DS00595.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2009). Social phobia (social anxiety disorder). Retrieved July 18, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder.shtml.