Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition marked by a crippling fear of embarrassment and social situations. People with the disorder will often avoid necessary social situations like jobs and relationships because of their fear — a fear they often know is irrational.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that approximately 15 million Americans have the disorder, and 36 percent wait more than 10 years to seek help.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder are primarily mental, but some physical symptoms can become apparent when a person with the disorder is in a social situation. Physical symptoms may include the following: a raised heart rate, blushing, profuse sweating, nausea and bodily tension.
Mental symptoms tend to be more intense than physical symptoms in social anxiety disorder. These symptoms include feeling intense fear of speaking to strangers, constant worrying about being embarrassed and difficulty speaking clearly or loudly to others.
For some, it may be difficult to distinguish between everyday stress and a serious psychological condition like social anxiety disorder. For this reason, only a qualified doctor should diagnose social anxiety disorder.
To make a diagnosis, a doctor will likely ask the patient to take surveys about his or her symptoms. The doctor may describe social situations and ask the patient to describe the level of stress he or she feels.
If the patient’s answers meet the professional criteria to qualify as social anxiety disorder, the doctor will make the diagnosis and begin to discuss treatment options.
In most cases, doctors will suggest therapy before medication to treat social anxiety disorder. Therapy has has been successful in treating the disorder.
One type of therapy often used to treat social anxiety disorder involves placing the patient in controlled social situations. Over time, the patient should begin to understand that his or her fears are not likely to play out in real life, which can lend the patient comfort and confidence.
Several medications — such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine) — treat social anxiety disorder. These selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors work by increasing blood levels of serotonin, a chemical that regulates brain functions and emotions.
Social anxiety disorder may be transferable across generations. Research has shown that people with relatives who have anxiety disorders face an increased risk of having an anxiety disorder themselves.
However, relatives aren’t entirely to blame for social anxiety disorder. Other conditions and issues may be risk factors for the disorder — an imbalance of serotonin and a history of being bullied both raise the risk of social anxiety disorder.
Many people live with social anxiety disorder, and some don’t know they have it. To live normal lives, people with social anxiety disorder often seek ongoing treatment and counseling — with many reporting positive outcomes.
If you feel that you have symptoms of social anxiety disorder, seek a professional medical opinion.
Although many therapists encourage patients to face their fears by placing themselves in social situations, some experts do not believe this is an effective treatment.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, group therapy can be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder. In group therapy, emphasis should be placed on encouraging rational thoughts to push aside irrational fears.
People with social anxiety disorder are not alone. Across the world, millions of people deal with a crippling fear of social situations daily. Because so many people have this and other anxiety disorders, help abounds.
Doctors can provide reliable references for therapists and treatment centers that specialize in treating social anxiety disorder.
Do not delay seeking help. Social anxiety disorder is an often-manageable condition, but it requires treatment in most cases.