Social anxiety is a mental disorder that causes excessive worry and self-consciousness when around people or involved in common, everyday situations. The excessive fear of embarrassment or judgment by others can cause the sufferer to avoid engaging in situations that may be enjoyable or even necessary, such as work or shopping.
Social Anxiety Symptoms
Symptoms of social anxiety generally involve avoidance of situations that may involve the possibility of making a mistake and suffering judgment by others. People with social anxiety may become fearful of making phone calls, performing on stage, making small talk, meeting new people or being watched while performing a task. Anxiety toward these types of situations may cause the following symptoms:
- Intense worry prior to an important event, possibly lasting for weeks or months
- Fear of embarrassment
- Avoidance of social activities which limits productivity in society
- Excessive self-consciousness
- Trembling, shaking or feeling short of breath
- Blushing or facial twitches
- Cold sweats and dizziness
- Tightness of the chest and heart palpitations
- Sweating or hot flashes and possible fainting
- Nausea or gastrointestinal problems
- Dry mouth and shaky voice
Causes of Social Anxiety
While the exact cause of social anxiety is not known, there are several possibilities which may contribute the symptoms of this disorder. As with most mental disorders, people who have a family history of social anxiety may be more susceptible to development of symptoms. It may also be possible to 'learn' this type of behavior from closely related family members. Chemical imbalance in the brain leads to numerous types of mental dysfunction, and social anxiety is no exception. When natural chemicals are out of balance, perception, mood and emotional well-being can be adversely affected.
Diagnosis of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is often difficult to diagnose. Because of the severity of symptoms, patients may begin by visiting the emergency room with questions about heart or other physical problems. If no physical ailments are found, a psychiatrist or psychologist may be recommended. An assessment or evaluation of behavior and other factors should then be performed. Information provided regarding family history, stress factors and severity of symptoms will help to reveal if social anxiety is indeed the cause of disruption.
Treatment Options for Social Anxiety
Many treatment options exist for social anxiety, and choosing the proper methods will depend upon the individual's preferences and severity of the illness. In addition to traditional medical treatments, one may seek out alternative forms of self-healing or group therapy. The following are some suggestions for possible treatment of social anxiety, and a discussion with a professional regarding choices is recommended.
- Traditional medication – anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication can alleviate symptoms of social anxiety, leading the patient to be less apt to avoid normal, everyday situations
- Counseling - a licensed therapist may present ideas about new ways to cope, suggestions for self-healing methods and exercises in overcoming symptoms
- Cognitive therapy – methods can be learned that create awareness of certain triggering events that may lead to social anxiety symptoms, leading the patient to prevent unwanted symptoms and regain control over necessary tasks
- Diet and lifestyle changes – replenishment of vital nutrients and minerals in the diet, coupled with daily exercise, can bring brain chemicals back into balance leading to improved overall health, both physically and mentally
- Alternative medicine – a holistic approach involving relaxation techniques, such as meditation, controlled breathing and yoga or tai chi can bring about a new level of personal healing
- Support groups – joining others with similar symptoms can open new possibilities of healing, well-being and prevention of debilitating symptoms