Social anxiety or social phobia refers to intense fear or anxiety of being judged, rejected or criticized while performing or being in a social situation. The affected person has an intense and uncontrollable fear that they will be negatively judged by people.
During social interactions or performances, social anxiety may make these people:
- Feel too scared while being amongst people, particularly strangers or those they have not previously interacted with
- Sweat excessively, blush or tremble in public
- Have a racing heartbeat (palpitations)
- Feel as if their mind has gone completely blank
- Find it difficult to interact or talk to people despite wanting to
- Feel too conscious of themselves
- Have a tough time making eye contact
- Speak unclearly, stumble over words or in a very soft voice
- Feel as if they can't move or have a rigid posture
- Feel too nervous or embarrassed
- Feel lightheaded or dizzy
- Feel sick to their stomach or nauseous
The fear of being judged may make the affected person avoid places where there are other people. They may feel that people will find them stupid, unworthy or awkward.
Social anxiety affects about 15 million adults in the United States and prevents those affected from living their lives fully and realizing their true potential. The anxiety or fear of being in social situations is unreasonably overwhelming for the person, making them feel too weak or powerless against it.
The symptoms may interfere with the person’s daily life, including personal and professional relationships. They may find themselves underperforming despite being fully capable. When left untreated, people with social anxiety may also develop other mental health disorders, such as alcohol use disorders and depression.
What causes social anxiety?
The causes of social anxiety are often complex and arise due to an interaction between genes and the environment. The condition tends to run in families, but not everyone in the family may be affected.
Studies have suggested that the person’s brain structure may also play a role in causing social anxiety disorder. People with an overactive amygdala (a structure in the brain that controls emotions) also tend to suffer from it.
Misinterpreting or misjudging other people’s behavior may also contribute to social anxiety. For example, a person may misunderstand a cheerful appreciation for being mocked or laughed at. Similarly, an attentive audience may be mistaken for one that is being too critical or judgmental.
Traumatic childhood or past experiences may also play a role. Social anxiety also tends to affect people who think they look different or don’t look a certain way.
Is social anxiety treatable?
Yes, social anxiety can be well-managed with the various treatment modalities available. The first step toward getting rid of this disorder is seeking help. It is alarming that fewer than five percent of people with social anxiety disorder seek treatment.
The doctor may treat any underlying health condition that may be causing anxiety symptoms. Generally, social anxiety is managed with psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both. The key to effective management of social anxiety is seeking timely treatment from a qualified health professional.
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