Probably every one of us has felt shy in a social situation. Feeling shy can be uncomfortable, as we may become self-conscious and bashful. Physically we may react and blush, feel shaky, or have difficulty with word finding.
However, for some people this shyness can be more than just a momentary, nervous reaction. This uncomfortable experience can develop over time into ongoing apprehension, panic, and avoidance that limit opportunities to engage with life.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), sometimes known as social phobia, is characterised by an intense, persistent fear of social or performance situations. These situations may include unfamiliar people and/or a perceived risk of scrutiny. Adults, children, and adolescents can all develop SAD. Those experiencing social anxiety often report fearing that their actions, or even the anxiety symptoms themselves, will cause embarrassment and humiliation.
Understandably, experiencing anxious anticipation in the lead up to, and enduring distress whilst in the middle of, a feared situation is stressful. Symptoms are different for different people, but can include worry, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and muscle pain. Furthermore, when symptoms of anxiety are not challenged successfully, then there is often a predisposition to panic. Symptoms of panic can include an increased heart rate, feeling sweaty or shaky, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, nausea, dizziness/light-headedness, numbness/tingling, plus hot or cold flushes.
It is logical that the ill feelings of anxiety and panic can lead to avoidant coping. However, avoidance does not allow us to experience success and, thus, reinforces and often worsens social anxiety over time. In extreme cases, SAD may result in an impaired ability to manage daily living due to the impact symptoms have on academic, work, and personal relationships.
Notably, living with social anxiety does not mean living without insight. People experiencing the symptoms of social anxiety generally understand their fears are unreasonable or excessive and want to get out of the anxious-avoidant cycle. After all being stuck with social anxiety is not just difficult on a day to day level. Living with SAD may mean missing out on reaching important life goals.
The good news is there are well established, proven psychological strategies that successfully address social anxiety. If you or someone you know would benefit from finding out more on social anxiety treatments, then I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Dr Amanda White, PhD, B Psych (Hons), B Beh Sc, DipH, MAPS.
To make an appointment with Dr Amanda White Psychologist, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Anxiety disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev., pp. 450–456). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.