What is Social Anxiety Disorder? 

Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is a persistent and intense fear of being negatively judged or rejected in social situations and performances. Approximately 7% of the U.S. population suffers from social anxiety disorder. It can occur by itself or co-occur with other anxiety disorders or other mental health condition. Social anxiety disorder can affect children, adolescents, and adults. It can impact people of any gender, though it is seen slightly more often in females. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder may present at any point in life, but most often begin in childhood or adolescence. 

It is normal to experience some degree of anxiety before giving a presentation or going on a date. But for it to be classified as social anxiety disorder, anxiety is recurrent, persistent, and significant enough to disrupt everyday activities and functioning. 

The main factors that distinguish social anxiety from shyness are:

  1. How much it interferes with your day-to-day life. People with social anxiety disorder generally experience a level of anxiety that interferes significantly with their academic, social, or occupational functioning. Those struggling with social anxiety disorder might avoid certain social situations often enough that it becomes difficult to maintain relationships, keep up in school, or retain employment. 
  2. How persistent your fear and anxiety are. Intense anxiety that has continued for at least 6 months and happens recurrently in numerous social situations may meet the criteria to be classified as social anxiety disorder.

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Like many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is likely correlated with a number of biological and environmental factors. It may have a genetic cause, as those with a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to develop social anxiety disorder. 

Social anxiety may also have a biological cause, as some individuals’ brain structure and chemistry might make them more likely to develop anxiety disorders including social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder could have an environmental cause as well, meaning that people who have a negative social experience, a traumatic humiliation, or other embarrassing experience may begin to experience fear of social situations that eventually develops into social anxiety disorder. 

Social Anxiety Symptoms

Symptoms of social anxiety can be both mental and physical. They can include:

  • Fear of situations where you may feel judged or rejected
  • Worry about embarrassing yourself
  • Fear of strangers
  • Fear of appearing anxious
  • Avoidance of social situations or performances
  • Blushing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trembling of hands, feet, or voice
  • Excessive sweating
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Constant feeling that you need to use the bathroom
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank
  • Muscle tension or stiffness 

Social Anxiety Treatment

Social anxiety is a treatable condition. Together with your provider, you can create a treatment plan to overcome the symptoms of your social anxiety. Potential treatment options include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the most effective type of psychotherapy for anxiety and can be effective in both group and individual settings. Social skills therapy is another form of group therapy. In social skills therapy sessions, you may participate in role play exercises to develop confidence and coping skills to use in social situations. Social skills therapy is a form of exposure-based CBT.

Social Anxiety Medication: Your doctor may prescribe you medication to help treat the symptoms of social anxiety disorders. Prescribers will often begin with antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Prescribers will also sometimes advise you to take anti-anxiety medications on an as-needed basis. These medications are often helpful when taken immediately before you are going to be in an anxiety producing situation.

Social Anxiety Treatment at Sheppard Pratt

Sheppard Pratt treats social anxiety disorder on both an outpatient and inpatient basis.