Social anxiety disorder (SAnD) is the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations. It is estimated that more than 15 million American adults suffer from this disorder. The anxiety can be significant enough to interfere with daily routines, occupational performance or social life. In this manner, people often struggle to complete school, interview for jobs and have friendships or romantic relationships. To add to the strain, 36 percent of people with SAD report having symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
A Look at SAnD
In short, SAnD can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. Although many people with SAnD recognize their fears are excessive and unreasonable, they feel defenseless against the anxiety and thus make accommodations to avoid social situations. Their greatest fear is that they will humiliate or embarrass themselves. This social phobia is often the product of perceived judgment or negative evaluation from other people. Feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation and depression often ensue. SAnD may be characterized by both emotional and physical symptoms. Some of these are as follows:
- Intense fear of being in situations without knowing people
- Fear of situations in which one may be judged
- Worrying about self embarrassment or humiliation
- Fear that others will notice one is anxious
- Avoiding situations or speaking to people out of fear
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Nausea and stomach upset
- Difficulty talking or shaky voice
- Difficulty making eye contact
People with SAnD may also suffer from low self-esteem or negative self-talk. These conditions may be damaging to ones mental health. SAnD sufferers may further have poor social skills, hypersensitivity to criticism and trouble being assertive. In some cases, people may not feel bothered by their conditions and thus do not seek treatment. Making speeches, for example, may be bothersome but also avoidable depending on a persons professional work. In other cases, people may feel compelled to seek treatment because SAnD is disruptive to their lives. When using a public restroom, walking through a room in which people are already seated or interacting with strangers encroaches on daily functions, SAnD may require medical attention. This condition is set apart from normal instances of nervousness in that its symptoms are much more severe and last much longer.
News and Research
UCLA researchers revealed in 2010 that how the brain responds to social stressors may influence the bodys immune system in ways that negatively affect health. The study shows that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress. Chronic inflammation, in turn, may increase the risk of a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and depression.
Social Anxiety Support
Lead author George Slavich, postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, recommends people with SAnD examine their thoughts. Although the issue is complex, one solution is to not treat negative thoughts as facts, Slavich suggests. If you think you're being socially rejected, as yourself, what's the evidence? If there is no evidence, then revise your belief. If you were right, make sure you're not catastrophizing or making the worst out of the situation. Another treatment option making its way onto headlines is attention training. Two studies of this therapy showed it alleviated SAnD and generalized anxiety disorder as effectively as cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (CBT) and anti-anxiety medication had in earlier investigations. Attention training helps subjects practice on ignoring threatening words or unpleasant actions of those around them. Unlike CBT or medication, attention training requires minimal professional supervision, causes no side effects and can be completed with at-home training modules.
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