Social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear in social settings and is more common than you think. More than 15 million people in the U.S. cope with the disorder, many for years before they find help from caring mental health professionals that can correctly diagnose the issue.
For those with severe symptoms, their social phobia can overwhelm them during day-to-day activities. School, work or even visits to the grocery store become debilitating with severe social anxiety. It is often difficult to develop close relationships outside of your family, which makes work and school commitments even more daunting.
Understanding social anxiety disorder, and what causes it, is important to being able to effectively treat it.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety symptoms are physical and mental. These symptoms can cause physical discomfort, as well as poor performances at work or school.
Physical social anxiety symptoms include:
- Raised heart rate
- Trouble speaking
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shaking or trembling
Psychological or mental symptoms of social anxiety are:
- Absence from school or work due to social phobia.
- Use of alcohol to handle social situations.
- Stress over social situations and upcoming social events.
- Fear of embarrassment in a social situation.
- Concern over people noticing your social anxiety.
Your body and mind’s reaction to social circumstances can also reinforce your phobia and fear. A visit to the grocery store, for example, may cause an attack where you have difficulty speaking with the cashier. While the clerk may think nothing of the exchange, it reinforces your fear of embarrassment in social situations.
Things That May Trigger Social Anxiety
A trip to the grocery store is not a trigger for everyone’s social anxiety. Social anxiety has two forms: limited or selective anxiety and extreme anxiety.
Limited anxiety is not always triggered, but extreme anxiety is in every social situation. It is an overwhelming feeling for those with social phobia because every room they enter, from their perspective, has a spotlight on them at all times.
Common situations that trigger social anxiety symptoms include:
- Asking a question in class or at work.
- Handling in-person or over the phone job interviews.
- Shopping for clothes, food and other supplies.
- Using public restrooms.
- Talking on the phone for work, school or personal needs.
Triggers, such as a job interview or asking a question at school, can affect a person’s education, as well as their career opportunities.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety has several possible causes, which include a person’s history and their genetics. Personal history is often a major contributor to social anxiety. A history of abuse, family conflict or bullying can make suffering from social phobia more likely.
Because of a negative childhood history, people can develop social anxiety and learn to fear social situations. Again, and again, their childhood interactions have reinforced the fear, embarrassment, and pain of social interactions.
The fact that the experiences cause someone to develop a social phobia emphasize how painful the interactions and experiences were throughout their childhood.
Children may develop social anxiety from parents who have a social phobia as well. Because children mimic or learn behaviors from their parents, they can develop those same social anxiety fears, though this is not always the case.
Social anxiety can also result from chemical imbalances. Serotonin, for example, regulates mood, and an overactive amygdala in the brain, can cause increased responses to fear, as well as anxious thoughts.
The causes and triggers for social anxiety will vary from person to person. Understanding what causes your social anxiety is key to finding a social anxiety treatment that helps you regain balance and peace in your life.
Diagnosing and Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety treatment is often not something you can treat yourself, especially if a chemical imbalance is causing your anxiety.
While seeing a mental health professional is a challenge with social anxiety disorder, it offers assistance with an experienced professional who can help you feel safe and comfortable during visits.
Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed based on the dialogue and descriptions you provide, as well as your behavioral patterns. The criteria for a social anxiety diagnosis often includes:
- A level of anxiety that disrupts daily living.
- An understanding that your fears are unreasonable.
- A panicked or anxious feeling before social interactions.
- A continued fear of social situations because of potential embarrassment or humiliation.
After a diagnosis, your social anxiety treatment will likely focus on therapy. Two therapies that benefit and help those with social phobia are Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and group therapy:
- DBT helps you manage your emotions and behavior through contemplation and relaxation therapy. It focuses on accepting your social anxiety, but also changing that behavior to make your life more enjoyable and peaceful.
- Group therapy provides the opportunity to learn social skills and techniques through role-playing alongside others with social phobia. Group therapy can be part of your treatment program later on in your social anxiety treatment after you have become more comfortable with your therapist.
In addition to seeing a professional, there are some steps you can take on your own. At-home techniques include:
- Reducing your caffeine intake.
- Getting eight hours of sleep each night.
- Working to build or maintain positive relationships.
Social anxiety disorder can isolate and limit your life’s enjoyment. Break free with treatment and therapy to help you reclaim and rediscover your life. This may seem like an overwhelming and frightening step to take with social anxiety, but it is immensely rewarding.