The classic sign of a social anxiety disorder is a strong fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social situations, but it is much more than just feeling shy.
Around 13% of the general population are thought to have a social anxiety disorder.
Experiencing social anxiety disorder is linked to fewer romantic relationships, greater unemployment and fewer days worked, as well as lower productivity.
1. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder
Around 50% of people consider themselves shy, but social anxiety is more than that.
Social anxiety disorder is thought to affect around 1 in 8 people
The condition often strikes at important moments in people’s life and usually leads to a significant reduction in their quality of life.
The common symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- excessive sweating
- difficulty speaking
- trembling or shaking
- rapid heart rate
- dizziness or light-headedness
Psychological symptoms include worrying about:
- embarrassing yourself in a social situation
- social events days or weeks before an event
- other people will notice you are stressed or nervous
- trying to blend into the background of social events
2. Best treatment for social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is most commonly treated with antidepressants, but these are not the most effective treatment.
A new study finds that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is more effective and the benefits continue after the initial treatment has finished.
Dr Jeremy Dean’s ebook “The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic” teaches you the principles of CBT and how to apply them to social anxiety.
Other ways of managing anxiety yourself include:
- Support groups.
- Eating healthily.
- Complementary therapies like yoga, meditation and deep breathing.
- Various mind-body approaches.
3. The causes of social anxiety
There are a large range of factors that could influence whether you experience anxiety as a mental health problem.
- Anxious personality. Some people are genetically prone to anxiety.
- Childhood experiences. Bullying, hostile parents or other frightening experiences during childhood.
- Long-term health problems like chronic pain are linked to anxiety.
- Everyday habits such as working long hours, financial or housing problems and stress can cause anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder is also linked to higher levels of serotonin in the brain, not lower as previously thought.
People with social anxiety actually produce more of the neurotransmitter serotonin in their brains.
The more serotonin they produce, the more anxious they become.
The result is a surprise as social anxiety are often treated with SSRIs like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.
SSRIs actually increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.
4. Antidepressants can help social anxiety
A combination of SSRI antidepressants and cognitive-behavioural therapy can be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder.
Brain scans showed that the combined therapy reduced the neural response in the amygdala — part of the brain central to processing fear and anxiety.
5. Antidepressants have side-effects
While antidepressants can be effective, they are also associated with side-effects, and they don’t work for some people.
More importantly, the beneficial effects of medication tend to wear off after discontinuation.
6. Your friends like you more than you think
People with social anxiety disorder can find it difficult to make friends, but they are seen more positively by others than they imagine.
While social anxiety sufferers think their friendships are not of the highest quality, their friends are much more positive.
7. Acts of kindness can help
At the end of the study it was those who’d performed the acts of kindness who felt more comfortable in social interactions.
The acts of kindness seemed to help people deal with worries about rejection.
8. Exercise and probiotics
People who eat more fermented foods have lower social anxiety, a study finds.
Fermented foods that are a regular part of the Western diet include milk, cheese, yoghurt and bread.
They typically contain probiotics, which are likely behind the benefit.
The study also found that the more exercise people did, the lower their social anxiety.
9. It is never as bad as you imagine
It might feel like everyone can see exactly how anxious you feel, but that’s not necessarily the case.
People who have serious anxiety disorders consistently overestimate their symptoms in comparison to objective tests.
Severely anxious people, studies show:
- do not sweat as much as they think,
- their hands do not shake as much as they imagine,
- and their breathing is not as erratic as it seems to them.