Are you afraid of being judged by others?
Are you self-conscious in everyday social situations?
Do you avoid meeting new people due to fear or anxiety?
If you have been feeling this way for at least 6 months and these feelings make it hard for you to do everyday tasks, such as talking to people at work or school, you may have social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends and maintain romantic partnerships.
The ways in which the disorder affects people will vary, as will the severity of its impact, and if left untreated, it is only likely to worsen. In extreme cases some people elect to live in isolation which can lead to, or worsen existing depression or the development of additional phobias.
While there is no particular pattern the disorder follows, it does have a number of typical steps or phases in which people may find themselves including:
In early childhood, those who eventually developed social anxiety disorder displayed timid personality traits.
The vast majority of people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder started developing or exhibiting symptoms at age 13. (It's often to miss the signs - there is a LOT going on developmentally and socially at this age!)
Over time the severity and frequency of the triggered symptoms tend to increase.
If undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to the development of substance abuse, depression, and additional anxiety disorders (all in attempts to deal with the social anxiety).
Over time, untreated social anxiety disorder can become a chronic condition. As with most conditions, the longer it is left before getting help, the potential exists that treatment may take longer and be a bit more difficult.
Psychological symptoms may include:
Fear of being observed or judged
Fear that you will embarrass and humiliate yourself
Crippling fear of interacting with strangers
Avoiding situations where you could become the center of attention
"Post-mortem" over-analysis of situations to dissect what you possibly did wrong.
Fear of offending people
Anticipating the worst possible outcomes
Fear of embarrassing physical symptoms like sweating, shaky voice or limbs, trembling or blushing,
Anticipating embarrassment, therefore avoiding social engagements
Physical symptoms may include:
Heart palpitations or a hyper-awareness of your heartbeat
Shortness of breath
Extreme muscle tension or trembling
A rigid body posture
Speaking with an overly soft voice
Losing track of time/location (dissociation)
Lightheadedness or dizziness
How Is It Treated?
The good news is that help is available!
Medication: Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and sedatives such as benzodiazepines. Beta-blockers can also be helpful when administered correctly.
Therapy: There are many therapeutic tools a qualified counselor can use to help. Some of those include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Support/Therapeutic Groups: Because this is a social interaction problem, it is often extremely helpful to practice the new skills and tools you learn in therapy within the safety of a support group. Working together with other people who have similar challenges can be very validating and help you realize you're not alone and that you can learn to feel safer in social settings.
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves,call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.