Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder


You’re at the top of your career game, climbing the ladder and exceling at your current position in every way – but there’s one thing holding you back; fear of social situations. It isn’t that you don’t like people – you do. And once you’re in the swing of things, you’re usually fine and have even been known to enjoy yourself. But getting to the point where you actually proactively enter a social situation is more than tedious – it’s terrifying.

You’re not alone – in fact, you’re accompanied by approximately 15 million Americans. You all have one thing in common: social anxiety disorder – or social phobia.

This phobia is one of the most common psychiatric disorders and nearly 12 percent of Americans experience it at some point in their lifetime. Note the use of the past tense: having a social phobia is not a permanent state – it is a challenge that you can overcome.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone has a fear of social situations in some way over the course of their life – whether it’s nervousness about attending a corporate social function alone or simply concern over who you will sit with for lunch on the first day of school. The difference is that, for people with social anxiety disorder, these concerns can become disabling and crippling to their careers, relationships, and daily lives.

People with social anxiety order are not able to force themselves into those situations through rational thought and calming techniques; the anticipation of such events bring on extreme reactions as a result of their fear. They feel powerless, alone, or even ashamed – and these feelings overcome them to such an extent that they are unable to proceed with the most basic of social activities.

The terror and stress that sufferers of social anxiety disorder experience can be brought on by large social interactions – or the anticipation of such interactions – but also by everyday life events. The defining characteristic of this phobia is that sufferers have anxiety about doing things in front of other people. That may be something as significant as making a speech to a room of 1,000 people or as minor as eating or drinking in public or using a public restroom. There is no defining scale to how small an interaction might be that spurs a reaction – only that it happens.

Take note that social anxiety disorder is far different from standard shyness or embarrassment; people can move on from those things to force themselves to overcome the situation or feeling. In contrast, sufferers of social anxiety disorder live with these feelings day in and day out for years to come and the effects often only worsen if left unacknowledged and untreated.

Social anxiety order can manifest at any point throughout a person’s life, but most commonly appears during adolescence, on average around the age of 13. People suffering from existing anxiety orders or depression are particularly susceptible.

Social Anxiety Disorder Causes and Symptoms

The exact origins of social anxiety order are unknown, but there is a pattern within families, though no one knows why some family members are affected and others are not. That said, researchers do know that the answer lies in the brain within the several areas responsible for fear and anxiety reactions.

Though you cannot self-diagnose social anxiety disorder, there are several symptoms that may indicate that you should speak with a professional, including:

  • Very anxious feelings about joining other people or having to interact with them
  • Feeling very self-conscious around other people – beyond standard shyness or embarrassment
  • Intense fear of being judged
  • Avoidance of social situations and people
  • Hard time making and keeping friends
  • Physical reactions to fear of social situations, such as blushing; sweating; nausea; or stomach pains

Coping with and Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder

There are numerous ways to cope with and overcome a social anxiety disorder. Cognitive behavior therapy is a popular form of treatment which involves working with a psychiatrist or psychologist to learn new behaviors, responses, and reactions to various situations. Alternately, there are medicinal treatments available.

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