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What is Social Anxiety?

Social Anxiety or Social Phobia is a fear of social or performance situations where a person is unfamiliar with the people, place, or activity. There is also a fear of scrutiny by others leading to a person fearing that they will act in an embarrassing way. Exposure to these situations provokes anxiety and in some cases leads to a panic attack. While it is possible for a person to recognize that the fear is unreasonable, it is still difficult to control leading to avoidance of social situations. In more severe cases, the anticipation of social situations can trigger and equal anxiety response. Some typical social situations that can trigger anxiety are: using public restrooms, interacting with strangers, eating in front of others, making eye contact, starting conversations, dating, parties, missing work or school, entering a room that already has people seated, returning items to a store, or overly crowded public places.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety:

  • Fear of situations that they could be faced with scrutiny
  • Worrying about embarrassment or humiliation
  • Concern of being offensive
  • Intense fear of interacting with strangers
  • Fear others will notice the anxiety
  • Fear of physical symptoms
    • blushing
    • sweating
    • trembling
    • shaky voice
    • nausea
    • tension
    • changes in breathing
  • Avoiding being the focus of attention
  • Anxiety in anticipation of social situations
  • Spending time after a social interaction analyzing interactions
  • Expecting negative consequences

What causes Social Anxiety?

There are a number of factors that could potentially cause social anxiety. It is a combination of genetics, brain structure, and environment that work together to create it. Most anxiety disorders tend to run in families and social anxiety is no different, leading to the assumption that there is a genetic component. Studies have also shown that a structure in the brain called the amygdala plays a role in the fear response and people who have an over active amygdala have a heightened fear response, which is focused on social situations in the case of social anxiety. Possibly one of the most important factors in causing social anxiety is environment. It is possible for repeated negative social experiences to lead to a social anxiety, especially when that genetic predisposition for anxiety is present. It has also been speculated that children of parents who are more controlling may be more susceptible to social anxiety.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

Psychotherapy is the most effective treatment to relieve most symptoms of social anxiety. Therapy is often focused on identifying negative thoughts about yourself and learning skills and thinking techniques to help gain confidence and change those negative thoughts, lessening anxiety in social situations. These Cognitive Behavioral Techniques can be combines with exposure during which a therapist gradually introduces someone to a feared social situation while coaching them on how to cope with the anxiety produced, building confidence and comfort in social situations that can be generalized into other settings.

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