Social Anxiety Disorder – What Is It? Discussing mental health, long a taboo has become more commonplace in recent years. This is a massive strive forward and should be celebrated. Still, much of the human brain remains a mystery and the underlying causes of many common issues remain unknown.
Thankfully, now that such topics are being discussed more openly, treatments, research, and methods to modify and improve behavior are becoming clearer. While the exact cause may be difficult to pinpoint, social anxiety and social phobias are one such area that has benefited greatly from these advancements.
Social phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is actually quite prevalent in modern society. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that over 7% of the population suffers from social phobia annually.
So what is a social anxiety disorder, and what are some specific phobias? Read on below to see more.
When one imagines anxiety in a social situation, this is likely one of the first that comes to mind. It is important to note, particularly for this social phobia, that feelings of mild unease or nervousness are perfectly normal. These feelings are likely to accompany a public speaking engagement in some measure in all but the most experienced of presenters.
As a social phobia, public speaking is far more significant than that described above. Someone with a social phobia of public speaking is going to have intense feelings of negativity, nervousness, and anxiety.
The anxiety could become so severe it can trigger a full panic attack in those with the phobia. It is important to note that social anxiety disorder is just that – a disorder.
The typical tips and advice for public speaking may help but are not likely to completely alleviate the concerns of someone with this phobia. Underlying or deeper causes could be the culprit and appropriate steps would need to be taken to remedy these.
Another common social phobia is the introduction of a new acquaintance or colleague into their orbit. A major component of social anxiety disorder is a greatly amplified fear or anxiety of embarrassing oneself or doing/saying the wrong thing at an inopportune time. A first impression, or the threat of making one, directly amplifies these existing fears.
For those with this social phobia, their existing friends and families are known quantities. It is likely that the fear of meeting someone new is not the only event that inspires anxiety in social situations for those with this disorder, but it is certainly a major one.
Questions such as “What if they don’t like me?” or “What if I accidentally offend them?” are likely to be top of mind. The more important the introduction (new boss, future in-law), the more extreme the reaction will be.
This is not entirely different from meeting a new person. People with this social phobia may or may not be comfortable in conversations in general. In a more intimate setting with someone they already know, they may even be quite talkative. Starting a conversation, particularly in a group setting, is a different item entirely.
Same with above, if the conversation is already ongoing or determined by someone else, there is minimal risk to those with this social phobia to contribute.
The topic is already agreed upon and everyone is contributing in their own way. Starting a new conversation can bring fears of others not being interested in the topic or not caring for what is said. These fears are primary drivers of social anxiety.
Not in sense of the negative term applied to people who only think of themselves. Rather, in the literal sense of an event that is centered around the individual with this social phobia.
Anything that draws attention to them is going to exacerbate their fears, and events such as birthday/retirement parties or awards dinners could be extremely trying. That anxiety can increase exponentially if the event draws attention to them and some sort of public speech or acknowledgment is expected.
This social phobia is often mislabeled or thought to be something else. An authority figure in this sense can be someone with direct authority at work, but can also extend to other areas where a person has a certain degree of assumed authority. Think police, medical doctors, and similar professions.
As an example, if someone has abnormally high blood pressure but reports that it only occurs at a doctor’s office, they are often considered to have “White Coat Syndrome”, or loosely, a fear of doctors.
In some instances, this may truly be that specific. More often than not, however, this is a more general social phobia that also manifests at the doctor’s office. Social anxiety disorder has roots in feelings of inadequacy, and being around a profession that could be perceived as morally superior can exaggerate these fears.
Keeping in mind that much of social anxiety contains fear of being judged, being watched is sure to trigger some of those fears. Those with this particular social phobia are likely to be uncomfortable eating in front of someone they don’t know well or talking on the telephone next to a co-worker.
Fear of judgment on their appearance or mannerisms are driving factors for this phobia, and being watched while performing activities can feel like a form of silent judgment, thus raising anxiety.
The above is not an all-encompassing list of the potential social phobias one may encounter or possess. It is, however, a good sample from which to extrapolate other events that could cause someone with an anxiety disorder discomfort. Certain activities like dating could be extremely difficult for someone with social phobias, for example.
Dating could naturally combine the elements of meeting new people and starting a conversation, and also tends to be highly focused on the individual. The combination of these items could be overwhelming for someone with social phobias. Some other common phobias include:
The first step in dealing with social phobias is to identify them and recognize them for what they are. The above should assist in that first step forward. Open conversations about mental health are essential if we are to continue to improve as a society in dealing with these issues. Having a discussion with a professional or even a close friend can be greatly beneficial to all involved.