Social Anxiety Disorder

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What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is the extreme fear of being judged, scrutinized, or criticized by others in social situations. Individuals fear that they will say or do something that will cause them to appear foolish in front of others or that others will notice some signs of anxiety, such as blushing, trembling, or sweating. These fears lead individuals to avoid social or performance situations, such as speaking in front of others or going to social gatherings. People who suffer from social anxiety disorder tend to have little or few social, platonic, or romantic relationships, which may lead them to feel alone, powerless, or ashamed. Those with social anxiety disorder suffer greatly and find interactions in school, work, and relationships extremely difficult. Social anxiety disorder typically begins around the age of 13, but may begin in early childhood. Social anxiety disorder is very common, particularly in the United States; research has found that more that one out of every eight people suffers from social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Even though both shyness and social anxiety disorder may be present in many individuals, they are not the same. Shyness is a normal personality trait and should not be mistaken for social anxiety disorder.

A number of factors can contribute to the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder:

  • Genetics: People with social anxiety disorder often have relatives who are anxious or shy.
  • Prior experiences: Many people with social anxiety disorder remember having been embarrassed or humiliated in the past. This leads them to be afraid that the same thing will happen again.
  • Negative thinking: people with social anxiety disorder often have negative expectations about what will happen in social situations. Common thoughts are “I won’t be able to think of anything to say,” “I’ll make a fool of myself,” and “People will see I’m anxious.”
  • Avoidance: People with social anxiety disorder often avoid situations that make them afraid. This helps them feel less anxious in the short run. In the long run, avoidance prevents them from learning that their social fears are exaggerated, which keeps them feeling anxious.
  • Safety behaviors: Sometimes people participate in social situations, but do certain things to try to avoid possible embarrassment. These “safety behaviors,” like avoidance, prevent people from learning that they can do well in social situations without extra effort.
  • Lack of social skills: Some people with social anxiety disorder never had the chance to learn social skills. This can cause them to have problems in social situations.

 

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