• 23 April 2022
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Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder

To put it simply for the layman, social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is a mental disorder in which a person feels anxious and fearful in social circumstances, resulting in suffering and lack of function in many parts of regular life. A panic attack usually occurs when others judge, or the subject feels that he/she is being judged. A person suffering from such a problem may fear rejection from others.

As a result of this disorder, a person becomes socially isolated and hyper-vigilant. They also feel inferior to others, have low self-esteem, and have issues maintaining relationships. The symptoms of this disorder are more than psychological, they are physical as well. Physically, the person may excessively stutter, sweat, shiver, and feel nauseated. People suffering may also avoid eye contact and even look at their surroundings. They may also have closed body language. In extreme cases, a fight-or-flight response might be triggered. Moreover, rapid speech is also associated with this disorder. An example of an occurrence may be that of a student presenting their work to the class, the student may stutter a couple of words, upon which he/she will worry that others noticed and his/her reputation among peers is compromised, causing further stuttering and anxiety.

The majority of the people diagnosed with this disorder also have other mental health problems, mostly it being clinical depression. People suffering from this disorder are driven to use alcohol and/or narcotics to cope with inhibitions and stress at social gatherings. Also, this disorder may lead to other substance abuse disorders such as alcohol/drug abuse and overeating. A person affected by SAD often makes life decisions to accommodate their illness. They have a deep-rooted fear of humiliation and embarrassment therefore, they seek professions where they can hide in the shadows and avoid the spotlights.

The disorder can affect people of all age groups. However, the disorder typically initiates during adolescence in teenagers with a background of strong shyness. Eighty percent of the people diagnosed developed the disorder before their twentieth birthday. The onset is mostly accompanied by a difficult or mortifying experience and the intensity varies from individual to individual. The severity of the disorder is measured by a standardized scale.

The diagnosis of this disorder is tricky as the symptoms overlap with other disorders such as autism or Asperger syndrome. Conventionally, the patient should have a marked, unprecedented fear and anxiety of social situations in which others may judge. The diagnosis is official if the symptoms occur for more than six months. Women are two times more likely to be diagnosed with social anxiety and the prevalence is also significantly higher for women compared to men.

Although there is no one definite cause for this disorder genetics and past experiences are believed to be the primary causes of this disorder. Studies show, that if one of your close relatives has this disorder you are two to three times more likely to be suffering as well. Twin studies also show that if one twin develops the disorder, the other is way more prone to its development than the average person. It holds even if they are raised in different households. As for past experiences, half the people diagnosed with this disorder can pin it to one specific traumatic event that started or worsened the problem. Other factors such as culture and substance abuse play a vital role in triggering or elevating this disorder.

The treatment typically begins with conventional therapy. Antidepressant medication has proven to be highly effective and is usually prescribed. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a group of antidepressants, it is the first choice for general social anxiety. Group therapy is also an effective option. The goal of therapy is to change self-depleting thought patterns and physical reactions to anxiety-creating affairs. Prevention has been a focus of research, but a solid breakthrough is yet to be made.

The public openness about SAD has significantly improved over the last decades. Now, medication is advertised for its treatment. More and more people are becoming aware, but much progress is to be made. If you are, or know someone who is, suffering from or might be suffering from social anxiety then please consider reaching out to the respected professionals.

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