Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the more common of psychiatric issues that nearly 12% of US adults have faced at some point in their lifetime. In many cases the feelings are temporary and will fade while in others the intense fear that is felt is so strong that it will actually impair a person’s daily life in a noticeable manner.
SAD received relatively minor attention for many years for many reasons, but in 1999 attention to this disorder was raised thanks to the introduction of several medications designed to dampen the fear individuals felt when the condition started to rise in the person.
But what is social anxiety disorder, how can it be properly diagnosed and what treatments are available for this particular condition?
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
The disorder manifests itself into feelings of intense fear when confronting social situations from casual gatherings to being out in public. The fear itself can be initiated by the actual or even perceived attention as given by others. Essentially, the feeling of being watched, judged and ridiculed whether real or not creates the fear which can be paralyzing to so many people.
SAD can lead to many unwanted behaviors such as self-medication, eating disorders, substance abuse and alcoholism. Sometimes called the “illness of lost opportunities”, social anxiety disorder prevents an individual from living up to their full potential based on the fears that they experience whether the actual source of the concern is real or not.
There are several symptoms that may present themselves when individuals are undergoing the feeling associated with SAD including the following;
These are also other symptoms that are caused by SAD which include panic attacks under extreme circumstances that can render the person suffering from this condition nearly helpless as they feel intense discomfort and fear. Other symptoms include stammering or rapid speech patterns to the point where the person may be very difficult to understand and have issues in expressing themselves.
There are different levels of SAD that exist which can be measured based on the person’s reactions to the feelings that they experience. The levels range from mild anxiety all the way up to very severe cases which can help in determining both the origin and the treatment for this particular condition.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
There is no single cause of SAD and the number of social phobias and anxiety sources are wide ranging and can be difficult to properly identify. This is because the causes of social anxiety disorder can range from elements of neuroscience that is a reaction which is genetically conditioned in the body to sociological where the symptoms become present due to a combination of factors.
Generally speaking, once the symptoms of SAD take hold it becomes very difficult to overcome and nearly impossible if the condition is not properly identified. Of the many studies that have been conducted, it can be stated that genetics seems to play a prominent role, but it is augmented by environmental factors which means that a person who is not exposed to specific environmental conditions such as crowded rooms for example may never feel any symptoms of SAD.
It does seem that individuals who grow up in a protected atmosphere are more likely to be associated with SAD. In addition, individuals who had an insecure relationship with their mothers when they were infants were also more likely to develop the symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder. However, it does seem that these individuals did need the genetic disposition in the first place in order to develop the symptoms of SAD at a later time.
Social and cultural influences also play a strong role in helping to reveal the vulnerabilities that certain individuals have to social anxiety disorder. The social influences can come from anywhere and can trigger the symptoms through a specific event or a building series of events that creates the conditions for SAD to exist.
The cultural influences seem to center on attitudes towards avoidance and shyness which in turn affect how people form relationships and their feelings of shame. Those who are genetically vulnerable can be heavily influenced by these cultural factors in either positive or negative ways.
In most cases, the first line of treatment for social anxiety disorder is through cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of treatment is usually accompanied by mild medications for those who are either not interested or have not shown any improvement from the therapy sessions. The behavioral therapy that is used is generally delivered either in an individual or group setting and seeks to identify, regulate and ultimately change the behavior that is associated with feeling the fear that this condition provides.
In essence, cognitive behavioral therapy is aimed at treating the responses that people have to the feelings they are experiencing. The medications are used to help tamp down the overwhelming fear so that the individual can better control their reactions. By changing the thought patterns, understanding the symptoms when they strike and taking the appropriate measure both through reaction and medications if needed, the person suffering from SAD can greatly reduce the overall effect of the condition.
The medications used in the treatment of social anxiety disorder include antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine, reuptake inhibitors, beta blockers and benzodiazepines. These medications are prescribed depending on the severity of the reaction to the symptoms of SAD and the individual’s own choice of action when not taking cognitive behavioral therapy which has proven to be quite effective for many people.
Overall, social anxiety disorder is a condition that can be treated when properly identified through cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of medications if needed. For millions of people who suffer from SAD, the key is proper identification and treatment as soon as it is possible. The earlier that treatment can be delivered, the easier it is for the person who is suffering to recognize and control the symptoms when they occur.