“Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you / from doing all the things in life that you’d like to,” sang The Smiths. Most people have experienced situations in their life that were awkward and uncomfortable. But there’s a difference between that momentary social discomfort before giving a big presentation or going on a date, and the mental and physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA, social anxiety disorder affects around 15 million adults in the United States. The disorder typically manifests itself in the early teen years, and the ADAA reports that most patients with social anxiety disorder report symptoms of the disorder for a decade or longer before seeking help. The Mayo Clinic describes a variety of symptoms of social anxiety disorder, including:
- Having a fear of situations where you think you might be judged, or where you think others will notice that you look anxious
- Worrying that you will embarrass yourself or offend someone else
- Habitually avoiding situations that might make you the center of attention
- Expecting the worst possible outcomes from social situations
- Going over perceived flaws in your performance and interactions with others after an event
As with many conditions, social anxiety disorder can arise from a variety of causes. The Mayo Clinic attributes the disorder to:
- Learned behaviors in the environment. The condition may develop from seeing anxious behaviors in others, or from overprotective or controlling parents.
- Differences in brain structure. The amygdala is an area of the brain that may have a relationship with the body’s fear response. An overactive amygdala could result in an overactive fear response, contributing to social anxiety.
- Genetic inheritance. Many anxiety disorders seem to run in families, although it’s not clear if this is actually due to genetics or to behaviors picked up in the family.
Social anxiety disorder, left untreated, can cause greater problems. An individual with this disorder can develop low self-esteem, trouble asserting themselves, social isolation and hypersensitivity to criticism. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic also warns additional disorders can occur along with social anxiety disorder, including major depressive disorder and substance abuse. Alcohol, which can lower inhibitions, can temporarily alleviate the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, but can also make the symptoms worse by increasing depression and irritability. The ADAA claims 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also deal with alcohol and substance abuse.
There’s always help. Like many disorders, social anxiety disorder can be treated with a variety of methods, including medication and therapy. If you or someone you know is dealing with social anxiety disorder, please contact us at 855-972-9459 for more information.