Paying at the cash, eating at the restaurant or giving a speech... For people with social phobia, these situations represent a formidable challenge.
What is social anxiety or social phobia?
First, it is normal to feel anxious in certain situations involving interactions with others. Most of us are able to control these feelings of anticipation, worry or fear, and a small dose of anxiety or stress can be beneficial. However, for people living with social anxiety (social phobia), these feelings become overwhelming and turn into uncontrollable anxiety. This anxiety—sometimes described as excessive or unreasonable—is often at the root of great emotional distress.
Social phobia is an anxiety disorder. Its main characteristic is that people affected by it dread or avoid situations that involve engaging, interacting, or communicating with others. It can occur during new encounters, but also in the presence of people they already know.
It is important to distinguish social phobia from the simple feeling of shyness, anticipation, or stress that is completely normal during new encounters or situations. People affected by it are more afraid of the feelings they might cause, such as humiliation and embarrassment. Exposure to other people’s perception of them, triggers the process leading to anxiety.
Like adults, children can also be affected by social phobia. However, this disorder is most often diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood. Women are generally more affected by it than men.
How can social phobia be recognized?
Social phobia is mainly characterized by:
- an exaggerated fear of being in a situation that involves communicating with others, of being in their presence, or being exposed to their perception of oneself, for instance:
- being interviewed for a job
- meeting someone of the opposite sex or a new colleague or boss
- public speaking
- going to a party or to a festival
- eating or drinking in a public place
- avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations
- anxiety that hampers daily activities
Some typical symptoms experienced by people with social phobia include:
- marked fear
- excessive worry
- red face or blushing
- excessive sweating
- feeling of butterflies in the stomach, and
- sweaty palms
Why are some individuals affected by social phobia?
The causes of social phobia are not yet well-known. Several theories have been put forth, taking into account genetic, biological, developmental, cognitive, experiential, and educational factors, and so on. It is interesting to note that the presence of other mental health issues, particularly other types of anxiety disorders, increases the risk of social phobia.
What are the treatments used for social phobia?
Many people living with social phobia feel ashamed to talk about their difficulties. As a result, it isn’t uncommon for them to be reluctant to seek the help they need and for their condition to go undiagnosed, which is unfortunate, as there are solutions that can contribute to their well-being.
Treatment objectives for social phobia include:
- decrease and relieve symptoms caused by anxiety
- improve ability to deal with anxiety-provoking situations, and
- improve functioning and quality of life
When a person begins treatment for social phobia, it can take several weeks or even a few months to see results. It is important to be patient and to commit to the proposed treatment methods.
Psychotherapy constitutes the basis of adequate management of any anxiety disorder. Various approaches can be beneficial. For instance, cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy has been shown to be effective in reducing the impact of social phobia. Therapies that help to understand how to communicate well with others have also proved to be beneficial.
Drug therapy can be a valuable aid in treating anxiety disorders, including social phobia. The use of drugs from the class of antidepressants that also have anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) properties is among the options available to control symptoms in the medium to long-term. The use of anti-anxiety medication with a more immediate effect may be beneficial to counter acute anxiety symptoms. If you are prescribed medication, your doctor will continually reassess the need for continued treatment.
In addition to psychotherapy and drug therapy, several measures can be considered in a global management of social phobia. Here are a few examples:
- massage therapy
- breathing techniques
- art therapy, animal therapy, and music therapy
It doesn't matter which path you choose to get to your destination. Each person can find their own strategies that will help them achieve a sense of calm and well-being.
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about anxiety disorders and how to treat them.