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1999

SOCIAL ANXIETY FACTSHEET

It is estimated that between 7 and 13% of people are affected by social anxiety disorder at some point,  making social anxiety the third largest mental health disorder as identified by the DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual used by psychologists in the U.S.).  Simply put, Social Anxiety Disorder is understood as being the recurring avoidance and debilitating fear of social situations where one might possibly be negatively be judged by others. Socially anxious people typically experience uncomfortable emotional and physical distress when they:

  • are thrust into the center of attention
  • are teased
  • introduced to strangers
  • have to speak or perform before an audience
  • are being watched while doing something physical
  • are talking with an "important" person
  • exchange eye contact
  • eat, drink, or speak in the presence of others
  • enter any unfamiliar social situation

Labels and Symptoms
Because people with social phobia are easily embarrassed and insecure in social interactions, they are commonly labeled as being "shy," "timid," "uptight," and even "rude," and "aloof."  These perceptions tend to exacerbate the situation for the social phobic, increasing the already intense anxiety of the situation by adding to it the nearly self-fulfilling anticipation of negative judgment by others.  Unfortunately, these labels also complicate the diagnostic process by confusing a potentially treatable disorder with the expectation that such behavior is the result of innate and simple personality traits.  What distinguishes social anxiety from the common but occasional fear of embarassment is the chronic nature of the disorder.  Certain social situations (specific phobia) or nearly all social situations (generalized anxiety) are persistently accompanied by feelings of dread, worthlessness, negative thoughts, increased heart rate, weak knees, twitching muscles, blushing, trembling limbs, dry mouth, and/or constant anxiety.     These physical and emotional symptoms are also usually understood by the person with social anxiety as being irrational in nature, but impossible to avoid.

Treatment
The prognosis for diagnosed social phobics is excellent, with a reported 90% of treated patients experiencing a significant reduction in symptoms.  Treatment usually takes one of two approaches, therapeutic and medicinal, and often combines the two.   Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), especially done in the context of group therapy, works to alleviate the psychological and behavioral components contributing to the disorder.  Medications, such as benzodiazepines, MAOIs, and the antidepressant SSRIs, can also work to control social anxiety, especially when coupled with a good therapeutic program.   

 

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