Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) or social phobia is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in typical social situations. Although a fear of being embarrassed in public is normal, people with social phobia experience this as part of daily life.
Many people with social phobia are simply labeled shy, but the disorder goes beyond shyness. Social anxiety disorder is an overwhelming and paralyzing fear of interacting with, or sometimes just being in front of, other people. Those affected feel like they are constantly being watched and judged, and live in fear of doing something that will make them look bad or embarrass them. While we all worry about these things at times, for those with social anxiety, the fear is constant and often paralyzing.
For some people, social phobia simply causes them to act shyly and avoid being noticed. They will often not speak up, not raise their hand, and simply do things to avoid attention. For others, they may actually do things to avoid social interaction completely. If not treated, people with severe social phobias may shut themselves off from the world.
There is also a severe form of social anxiety disorder called selective mutism. These people are so afraid of certain types of social interaction that they find themselves physically unable to speak. They are fully capable of carrying on a conversation with some people, say a close friend or family member, but cannot speak in more stressful situations, like when a teacher calls on them in class.
Symptoms are not only mental, with worries of doing or saying something wrong – the fear also becomes physical, causing symptoms like rapid breathing, upset stomach, sweating, shaking or twitching, blushing, dizziness, dry mouth, pounding or tight chest, along with other symptoms common of anxiety attacks.
Like many other mental disorders, social phobia is caused by a number of factors. Generally people with social phobias have a natural predisposition to be shy or anxious, but generally they are not born with the phobia. If may develop over time through childhood, if a parent or other close person exhibits similar symptoms or from experiencing a traumatic event.
There are no specific drug treatments for social phobia. The treatments that are available are effective for anxiety disorders in general; however, there are “off-label” uses of some drugs such as Oxytocin to treat social phobia.
You may also find relief from meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. While treatment may not transform you into a social butterfly, it can help you learn to live a normal life and enjoy social interactions. Research online or ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist who deals with anxiety disorders. Eventually you’ll be able to live a normal life and enjoy social interactions and situations.