Social Anxiety

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed at the thought of attending a party?

Does the thought of meeting new people or going for a gathering where there are chances of meeting and interacting with strangers ruin your day?

Do you keep worrying over what you are going to have to say or do, even if it is over the telephone?

Does the thought of going for a walk, even traveling in a lift or going out to do the grocery bring on unusual amount of anxiety because you are loathe meeting acquaintances along the way and forced to exchange pleasantries?

More importantly, does this level of worry interfere with your diurnal activities and bring on symptoms such as headaches, stress, tightness in the chest, breathlessness and a wildly racing pulse and heart beat?

If the answers to the above are in the affirmative, then there is every possibility that you are suffering from Social Anxiety.


[edit] Social Anxiety: The Definition

Social Anxiety in very simplistic terms, is an extreme form of shyness, however there is more to the picture than what meets the eye. In all cases of social anxiety, there is a tendency to evade social groups and social interactions. The thought of such interactions bring on a huge amount of apprehension and leads to stress. It is the amount of stress that is the deciding factor …there is too much of it for a person to handle easily or deflect it with the use of defense mechanisms. In the absence of any deflection there is too much of build up on a person’s plate, often interfering with individual ability to face social situations with ease, grace and sometimes aplomb.

Thus, Social Anxiety is an experience of various type of emotional discomfort: fear, apprehension, or intense worry — regarding social situations and being negatively evaluated by others.

The eventuality of all social anxieties is a heightened tendency to avoid social situations, almost veering towards reclusion. A socially anxious person therefore never learns to relax, be natural or take things easily. He is in fact always plagued by the thought that others are being critical of him and his ways, he is being evaluated constantly and failing to live up to the standards. Faulty learning experiences and conditioning patterns reinforce these seemingly irrational thoughts and accompanying behaviour, resulting in a pattern of anxiety in all social situations, eventually leading to a closeted individual, compromised in his ability to share himself and his experiences with the world around him. This is Social Anxiety and as figures around the world show, almost 5 percent of the world's population is impaired by such an anxiety based disorder.

[edit] Social Anxiety - Incidence and Causes

Social Anxiety is rated as one of the three most common disorders that plague the world at large and around 15 million in USA alone are affected by it. These figures may be conservative because a large number of people may not even know that they suffer from social anxiety. Many others do not even seek help. So the figures may not give the absolute picture.

Therefore as a medical disorder, social anxiety poses great risk to the fraternity because it is a hidden malaise in most cases. Think it over : just how many people do we know in our immediate social circle who stay up all stressed and troubled because they have an important meeting or presentation the next morning; there are so many persons unable to keep a job because they are anxious about the kind of impressions they are making on their co workers. Yet the number of such people who reach out for help is very low.

Not only are people unaware of the fact that they may be suffers of social anxiety, but they are also unwilling to seek professional help because this invariably comes with a lot of paraphernalia; the prime ones being, labeled a ‘freak’, a 'mad man', or a 'mentally challenged person'…such kind of labeling and its after effects is something that a socially anxious person will be most keen to avoid for it compromises his image in front of other human beings.

[edit] Social Anxiety – The Cause

There is no known single factor that is known to trigger off this kind of an anxiety. Psychologists are of the opinion that a curious mesh of genetic and learned factors are at play in such cases.

[edit] Psychoanalytical View

As in all types of anxieties, here too psychologists see a large portion of it operating due to the presence of a huge amount of Psychic Energy. This is often known to trigger guilt and remorse. For example, a person may not want to face a certain type of social situation as it releases her repressed sexual energy. Hence she experiences anxiety each time she finds herself face to face with that social setup. In this case, the psychic energy is the source and the thought of facing up to these social situations makes her anxious. Finally she opts for an escape route, she avoids the interactions. The feelings of relief that accompany make her opt for this same option time and again. She feels better staying away from meeting people.

The above is a viewpoint often given by psychotherapists. However they are unable to expand and explain as to why the person does not want to meet other people in other social groups? Why do people choose to be recluses and feel anxious at the prospect of meeting people, even complete strangers, in apparently innocuous places, such as the market or park?

[edit] Learning and Behavioural Point of View

This is where Learning theorists and behavioural theories help us in understanding the problem a bit better. Learning theorists state that the person who has not so positive experiences undergoes a sort of classical conditioning where he views every social situation as leading to a feelings of restlessness, low self esteem etc. and therefore he learns to avoid such situations. Feelings of relief that accompany avoiding such social groups and spheres is reinforced by instrumental conditioning leading to Social Anxiety.

Too many of these unpleasant events consolidate the feelings that the individual has of himself vis-à-vis the social situations. This is extended to an all encompassing social sphere that the individual occupies.

[edit] Genetic Make Up

So far as the genetic predispositions are concerned, not much is known although from a logical angle, a child of parents who are shy and reticent is more likely to be predisposed towards social anxiety. In fact this has been the subject of study by Professor Kagan of Harward University who found during his study of children through infancy till adolescence that 10-15% of children who are irritable as infants become shy, fearful and behaviorally inhibited as toddlers. As they grow up, they become more guarded and introverted, which by adolescence manifests into behaviour that borders on the reclusive ness. As adults, they are more likely to experience social anxiety.

[edit] Chemical Compositions

Chemical compositions in the brain may also have some bearing on the incidence of social anxiety in adults. The brain, especially the autonomous nervous system and its accompanying sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system all play a major part in the person’s arousal and anxiety state, especially in the way he deals with stress. Fright or flight is the two most commonly used options. The corcicotrophin releasing factor (CRF) and cholesystokinin are transmitters that aid in the process of reducing anxiety. Persons with social anxiety may be different in their chemical compositions or have abnormalities in the functioning of their anxiety arousal or reducing systems.

Whatever be the genesis of social anxiety, what remains at the end of it all is the presence of the irrational behaviour to seemingly harmless situations. The source is often forgotten which makes social anxiety so difficult to comprehend, sometimes even silly or worse, a sort of mad man’s behaviour.

This makes the diagnosis so much more difficult. In the absence of any semblance of rationality, social anxiety is often misinterpreted to be a case of schizophrenia, a case of bipolar disorder or a simple case of depression.

[edit] Social Anxiety – A Self Assessment

Social anxiety is not a disease; it’s just a reaction to certain unpleasant episodes that have conditioned a person to avoid social interactions. How does one come to know if he or she is suffering from social anxiety?

Ask the following three questions. An affirmative answer to the three will be a pointer to the fact that you may be in need of help.

  • Fear of embarrassment causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people.
  • I avoid activities in which I am the center of attention
  • Being embarrassed or looking stupid are among my worse fears

The unifying theme in all social anxiety disorders is a fear of performing below standards in a social situation. Accompanying sentiments are those of embarrassment and humiliation which affects in a normal interplay of individual with his social environment. A socially anxious person is always scared of people’s reactions to his performance, sometime unjustifiably, especially in neutral areas where people are not likely to be bothered about him. An anticipatory fear of impending social situations is a sure tell tale sign of a socially anxious person.

In addition, there are also tell tale physical signs that accompany any anxiety based disorder. These will be sweating, breathless, high blood pressure, increased heart beat rate and pulse rate, stammering, partial amnesia, nervousness, inability to be coherent etc.

[edit] Cure

The good bit about social anxiety is that it can be cured, provided one recognizes the signs and seeks professional help. The most reliable line of treatment would be that which would work at shaping maladjusted behaviour and forming appropriate behavioral patterns or responses.

Behavioural Therapies are ideal for this purpose because at the heart of Behavioural Therapies is the core concept that whatever behaviour has been learnt through conditioning can be unlearned and reshaped using those very techniques. Behavioural psychologists understand that these maladaptive behaviours need to change as they are very costly to the individual at a psychological level. Like in social anxiety, a person’s irrational fear may cost him his job, his friends, his social circle and above all his peace of mind. So corrective action is most necessary. Conditioning techniques is one way of helping the person. Also of huge help is the process of Shaping behaviour where the therapist demonstrates appropriate responses. The person may not get it right at the first go yet approximations are rewarded. Thereafter more and more accurate approximations are rewarded till the socially adaptive behaviour is reached.

However the best line of treatment would have to be Systematic Desensitisation. This is mostly a form of classical conditioning technique where the pleasurable and relaxing responses are learnt to those very stimuli that once produced anxiety. This form of therapy uses certain relaxation techniques as meditation, autogenic training and the likes to convey feelings of well being.

In addition cognitive therapies can also help in reshaping cognitive maps and structures in the brain which have a bearing on behaviour. When one works on the former, there are observable changes in the later. Self Instructional Training that is self talk in a positive way can help a huge lot. Cognitive Restructuring is yet another way of resolving the problem. Both require active involvement of the person and especially allow him to bring his fears and inhibitions, however irrational on board and thereafter work at changing these. This form of treatment also works with meditation and other relaxation techniques.

Finally there is Hypnosis, which is really an exaggerated form of relaxation and where the patient is open to suggestions that can help change behavioural patterns in a positive direction.

[edit] Conclusion

Social anxiety is prevalent and a lot of people in are bound to suffer from it, given the huge emphasis on how one conducts himself in the public domain. Without treatment it is torturous and harrowing and one may sink into the depths of depression if left without treatment. However a good therapy that changes views, mind sets and hence behaviour can be achieved, provide the person is motivated, desirous of better social behaviour and consistent and concerted in his efforts. Doing away with social anxiety cannot happen in a day and needs so much time to undo the faulty conditioning patterns. So given time and the right line of treatment there is no reason to think why a person cannot come out of his personal domain and merge with the society as a healthy happy and whole some self.

[edit] Know Your Facts

Do you get unduly worried, stressed out, lose your peace of mind and sleep, feel worried at the thought of an impending party, or presentation or other such socially interactive sessions? If YES, you could be suffering from Social Anxiety

  • Social Anxiety is the third most common psychological disorder in the world
  • Current estimates do not do enough justice to the magnitude of the problem as social anxiety is hidden…most people do not know they are affected by it.
  • Diagnosis is very difficult; social anxiety in a mild form is taken to be basic shyness; in an extreme form it can be misdiagnosed as depression or schizophrenia.
  • Seredyn If you have the time and ability to find an authoritative reference, please do so. Then add the citation yourself, or correct the article text. After all, the ultimate goal is not to merely identify problems, but fix them.– an anxiety relieving medicine, an all natural produce can help provide long lasting effect to social anxiety. It boasts of a success rate between 84% to100%
  • Alternate healing procedures like naturopathy, homeopathy along with various behaviour modification therapies can help to truly overcome the problem
  • SA-UK is an UK based organization that helps people tackle the problem of social anxiety in the United Kingdom Social Anxiety UK.

[edit] References

  • Social Phobia (social anxiety disorder)
  • Social Anxiety UK
  • Life Positive

[edit] See Also