The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that approximately 15 million adult Americans and many, more worldwide experience Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). This places it as the single most common chronic anxiety condition that exists. The disorder affects from people from all walks of life and in recent years, entertainer Donny Osmond came forward to announce that he has struggled with SAD since childhood.
Social Phobia Goes Beyond Shyness
Most people experience a degree of shyness when meeting new people or even those they are already acquainted with socially. With SAD, the shyness is extreme and exaggerated, causing the sufferer to feel very uneasy, on-edge or even panicky when he is in a social setting. The typical symptoms of anxiety will manifest when SAD sufferers are in the presence of people they are uncomfortable with, which is usually everyone outside of their immediate family and very close friends.
The symptoms of anxiety experienced by people with SAD include the common ones which are feelings of panic and apprehension, trembling, an urge to escape, rapid heart rate and breathing, muscle tension, feelings of unreality (depersonalization and derealization) and dizziness.
The anxiety symptoms that seem to be more intense in SAD sufferers are feelings of embarrassment, blushing, dry mouth, sweating and feeling that others are judging them. Symptoms can vary among those with SAD, depending on how developed the disorder is. Some will experience symptoms even while meeting with only one person, while symptoms only manifest in others when they are in social settings with several people present.
Inappropriate Timing of the Fight or Flight Response
Research studies by mental health groups in regard to social phobia have found that most patients develop the disorder during childhood. Over time, learned behaviors develop that cause the “fight of flight response” to become triggered more often and at inappropriate times, when SAD sufferers attempt to be active socially. The anxiety itself is not an unnatural emotion but it is the timing of it that becomes disordered (not in the order intended). Socially phobic people have learned to recognize social events and meeting new people, as a threat to them.
Treatments for SAD
There are psychiatric therapies including those in the “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” category that help people with SAD, to change the way they think about social events and settings. They also learn to respond differently to the feelings and symptoms of anxiety, so that they can channel the energy produced by it into putting their best foot forward when meeting new people. It is a therapy that helps anxiety patients to react positively to anxiety, so that it works for them, rather than against them.
There are also medications that can be combined with psychiatric therapies when needed or taken as a single treatment, including anti-anxiety drugs and SSRI anti-depressants. People with SAD should also self-educate about their disorder because knowledge can become power to help them overcome SAD or to greatly diminish the effects of it (coping) in their lives.