According to Psychologist Hans Eysenck, there are two main personality types – there are the introverted characters, and those who lean more towards extraversion.
Introverts tend to experience life in more subjective realms and prefer their own company over the company of others, while extroverts live in opposition to this.
Extroverts tend to get their energy from people and like to roam around in groups. Extroverts also tend to experience life more objectively.
But, irrespective of personality type social anxiety is rife within most communities, it also appears that anyone can experience it.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a long-term condition that presupposes a phobia of social situations. The anxiety can be so severe that it can cause excessive worry and a person to become overly self-conscious particularly when in social situations.
Not to be confused with being painfully shy or bashful, social anxiety disorder features the kind of symptoms that, if left untreated, can have a severe impact on an individuals life.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder often include:
- Extreme sweating and nervousness in social situations
- Shaking and trembling
- Rapid/fast-beating heart
- Inability to speak
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Severe blushing
Whereas bashfulness or extreme shyness is a short-term condition, a social anxiety disorder can disrupt the life of the sufferer to the point where they often become socially avoidant.
The negative impact that social anxiety disorder has on a person’s life appears to be all-encompassing. The condition often impacts a person’s ability to:
- Form fulfilling and long-lasting social bonds with others
- Attend university or school
Social anxiety disorder is non-discriminatory
Research suggests that social anxiety disorder is non-discriminatory. From the cheerful mailman through to that outgoing friend, you know, the one that oozes confidence by the bucket loads – it seems anyone of us can fall into the clutches of this debilitating disease.
The condition affects around 6.8% of the US population and is as common in men as it is in women. Studies also show that it often takes ten years for people to seek treatment for social anxiety disorder after experiencing life-long debilitating symptoms.
Social anxiety disorder is a widespread issue, and it seems that even Hollywood celebrities are not exempt from the condition. Celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Drew Barrymore, and Jim Carrey have all admitted to experiencing high levels of social anxiety.
Due to the nature of their careers, actors and performers are at significant risk of developing some form of social anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, because of this, they are also at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression, and in some cases, a substance addiction.
For example, actor, Owen Wilson, admitted to making several suicide attempts in the past, he has also battled with ongoing depression and drug addiction.
Interestingly, social anxiety disorder affects people (celebrity or non-celebrity) in similar ways, which means that treatment for the condition is executed, in the same fashion.
What causes social anxiety disorder?
There are currently no definitive causes identified for social anxiety disorder as such.
However, there is an amalgamation of causal factors that often play a role in the development of the condition.
- Environmental factors
- A person’s genetic disposition
- Brain structure
- Early traumatic events
- Having an isolated upbringing
- Witnessing others suffering from a social anxiety disorder
Statistics show that roughly 30 to 40 percent of those suffering from a social anxiety disorder, are those who possess specific genetic components, meaning that a first-degree relative likely has (or has had) the condition at some stage.
Researchers have also found a strong correlation between specific chromosomes associated with other disorders such as panic disorder and agoraphobia, the same chromosomes that link to social anxiety disorder.
Changes in brain structure have also been identified as one of the pathways leading to social anxiety disorder, as the neurotransmitters are often impaired, which cause the chemicals in the brain to become imbalanced.
Overcoming social anxiety disorder
There are several effective treatments available for combating social anxiety disorder. Here we will examine each one of them in detail.
There is a mixture of therapies designed to help people cope with the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. They include:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Also referred to as CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the first-line treatment many therapists recommend for social anxiety-related disorders. CBT allows an individual to explore any limiting self-beliefs they may hold, challenge them, and occasionally put those beliefs to the test.
Since social anxiety is often emotionally crippling, feelings of embarrassment and shame are often the centrepiece of this condition.
Challenging patients by putting them in real-life scenarios can often be an effective way for them to overcome their anxieties. This technique is similar to ‘flooding’ where patients become exposed to that which they fear.
Social anxiety sufferers tend to ruminate after being in a social situation. They might replay a scene in their minds over and over and often believe that what they said or done in any given scenario was perhaps silly or embarrassing. This ruminating causes them to self-punish and isolates them further.
Since CBT challenges negative thoughts and behaviours, it is often helpful to challenge patients by (as an example) getting them to ask a shopkeeper silly questions such as, ‘’why is the milk-white and not blue’’. Maybe not that exact question, but you get the point!
CBT is an active, collaborative therapy that seeks to explore the exact cause of what maintains a persons’ anxiety.
Over time, patients learn to challenge and explore their thoughts and behaviours, and are very often encouraged by a therapist to face their fears with the understanding that having a fear come true ‘’isn’t that bad after all’’.
Psychodynamic therapy originates back to Freudian times (the 1900s) and is sometimes combined with other therapy treatments such as CBT.
The basis of psychodynamic therapy is ‘talk therapy’ where the patient explores any past conflict in an attempt to resolve it. Essentially, psychodynamic therapy brings forth a person’s subconscious desires, wishes and conflict that perhaps they are unaware of, but are driven to self-destruct as a result of those unresolved conflicts.
Since psychodynamic theory holds the view that adult conflict originates from unaddressed childhood trauma, therapists work on the premise that identifying a person’s subconscious and repressed experiences will help treat present anxiety disorders such as social anxiety.
Psychodynamic therapy believes conflict to be a result of:
- The conflict between the need to succeed combined by a fear of success
- A deep conflict between a need for independence combined with a fear of rejection or becoming abandoned by caregivers
- Fear of not being perfect enough or making a good enough impression (often deriving from narcissistic tendencies)
- Experiencing shame and humiliation due to overly critical parents
Psychodynamic therapy aims to expose any underlying conflict that perhaps might be the cause of social anxiety disorder and work through these issues for long-term resolution.
Medication will be dependent on many factors, for example, if there are any other co-occurring disorders present.
Patients are typically prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for symptoms of persistent social anxiety. Other medications such as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) may also be prescribed.
Antidepressants, beta-blockers and anti-anxiety medications can also be an effective treatment for symptoms of social anxiety disorder and are prescribed at the discretion of each individual doctor.
Other practical steps you can take that may help with a social anxiety disorder include:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Reducing or cutting out caffeine
- Getting the recommended amount of sleep every night
- Staying active and following a vigorous exercise plan
- Learning more about stress management skills
- Staying social by participating in events (where possible) and remaining connected to others
At White River Manor, we specialise in helping people to understand any self-limiting beliefs they might hold about themselves, and ultimately work towards resolution and long-term recovery. Contact the team today and find out how we can help.