September 2, 2014
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Mental Health

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Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is a condition in which a person feels persistently and unreasonably fearful of social situations.

This is more than just shyness. For those with social phobia, life is a stage, and the rest of the world can be like a judgmental, ridiculing audience. Fear of public scrutiny or embarrassment may lead to avoidance of situations that could trigger social anxiety symptoms. Also, those with social phobia may be prone to "self-medicating" with alcohol or drugs as a way to feel more comfortable at parties or gatherings.

What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder?
General symptoms of social phobia include physical sensations of anxiety, self-consciousness, avoiding social situations, and fear of being judged or embarrassed. Some people with social anxiety disorder will actually act out in ways that are not at all shy but, rather, aggressive. When confronting their fear, a person can experience physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, clammy hands, trembling, nausea, and stammering or shaky voice.

The symptoms of social phobia can be triggered by particular situations - using a public restroom, interacting with strangers, ordering food at a restaurant - or by the most subtle of social interactions like making eye contact.

What are the causes and risk factors of social anxiety disorder?
A combination of genetic and physical factors and life experience may be the cause of a person's social anxiety disorder. Childhood challenges (bullying, teasing, abuse, etc.) can impact a person's comfort in social situations. And if your parents were socially anxious, you may have picked up some of their habits and behaviours.

How is social anxiety disorder diagnosed?
If you think you might have social anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you've experienced. Your doctor will likely perform a thorough examination to rule out other possible causes. A few criteria are generally considered when diagnosing social phobia:

  • Are you persistently afraid of, and anxious about, social situations?
  • Do you recognize that the anxious response is out of proportion with its cause?
  • Do you avoid anxiety-triggering situations?
  • Does your anxiety interfere with your daily life?

How can social anxiety disorder be treated?
Your treatment goal for social anxiety disorder should be to function better on a daily basis and to reduce the occurrence of symptoms. A treatment plan may include cognitive-behavioural therapy, medications, or a combination of therapy and medications. And while healthy lifestyle habits and social support may not cure social anxiety disorder, they can help you to manage your symptoms. Learn more about your anxiety treatment options..


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