Growing up I'd never heard of Social Phobia or Social Anxiety. I was described as quiet, shy or reserved. Although the labels don't sound like anything too dreadful, I think most people would have been surprised to learn that I lived in my own private hell. Going to school everyday was a nightmare and to this day I still find it hard to explain the agony I went through. I became an expert at blending in - taking extra care never to draw any attention to myself. The mere thought of a teacher calling on me to answer a question could make me physically sick. Unfortunately I couldn't always avoid it and on occasion I would hear my name called from the front of the classroom. With burning cheeks and a tremble in my voice I would mutter my answer wishing somehow that I could disappear into thin air. I hated myself. I was a freak. I felt as though everyone was staring at me and secretly laughing. Why couldn't I just be like everyone else? From the moment I arrived at school in the morning until I was back in the safety of my home, I feared ridicule. Through my high school years anxiety took it's toll and I was plagued with stomachaches and digestive problems. I never talked to anyone about how I was feeling inside. I guess I thought they would think I was crazy and for all I knew, maybe they would be right.
Does this sound like someone you know?
Social Anxiety is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today affecting approximately 7% of the population. One of the least understood anxiety disorders, Social Phobia affects people from all over the world. Unlike specific phobias this traumatic disorder leaves the person nervous and uncomfortable in almost all social situations.
Socially anxious people are often misdiagnosed and subsequently prescribed medication that is inappropriate to their condition. Psychiatrists commonly misdiagnose people suffering with Social Anxiety with other disorders such as manic-depressive disorder, panic disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia and personality disorder.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety:
The fear of being judged or criticized by others.
Difficulty making eye contact.
Difficulty meeting new people.
Fear of public speaking.
Fear of being the center of attention.
Other symptoms may include: intense fear or anxiety, dry mouth, heart racing, blushing, trembling, excessive sweating, muscle twitching and difficulty swallowing.
Is it Shyness?
Normal shyness is a slight nervousness that occurs when facing new situations. For example, your first day at a new school or at a new job, you may feel awkward and uncomfortable but it wouldn't stop you from going. The socially anxious person will avoid any social situation to the point of disrupting their professional and personal life. This self-defeating cycle of avoidance and fear leads to low self-esteem and depression, further reducing their quality of life.
The socially anxious live in painful isolation, imprisoned by their anxiety and fears. Communicating only with those they are closest to and feel most comfortable with they often despair of ever leading full and enriching lives. Sometimes it is difficult for loved ones to understand the depth of the pain that they live with every day. If left untreated, Social Phobia can lead to other related issues such as Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. It is not unusual that many will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective treatment proving to produce long-lasting relief. It involves learning to identify distorted anxious thoughts and replace them with more realistic substitute ideas. There are also a number of medications such as antidepressants and antianxiety medications that have proved useful in reducing symptoms. If you or someone you know suffers from Social Anxiety, consult your doctor for specific medical advice and treatments.