Do you experience Social Anxiety; does it impact on your life?

What is it? It causes an individual to experience intense anxiety in some or all of their social interactions in everyday life.  Given this, social anxiety can be defined as the persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which one is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny or criticism by others, and where exposure to such situations provokes intense anxiety.

It should be noted that some level of anxiety in social situations at times is completely normal.

How common is it? It is actually quite common. It affects approximately 13.7% of Irish adults at any one point in time. This is nearly one in eight adults.

The Individual - Individuals who experience social anxiety typically have a stronger than usual desire to make a good social impression. Unfortunately, they also fear that they are not as good socially as other people and will fail to come up to an acceptable standard of social behaviour – that they will not make the favourable impression they so crave. These factors then combine in such a way that when in social company they often believe that other people are closely observing them – that they are in some way on display or the centre of other people’s attention. Unfortunately, this ‘attention’ is not deemed favourable – quite the contrary. The reality is they often believe that other people think poorly of them, that others are judging them in a critical fashion or that they are behaving in ways that others find unacceptable or ridiculous. Being in this frame of mind leads also to intense self-consciousness and feelings of shame and embarrassment. The urge is to hide or escape the social situation evoking this sense of being criticised and judged. In this sense, social anxiety can be understood as an intense fear of embarrassment. Individuals with social anxiety experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms of anxiety from muscle tension, increased heart rate and dizziness to nausea, dry mouth, and breathlessness. However, of particular concern to them in social situations are the clearly visible signs of anxiety such as blushing, perspiring, shaking and stammering. For the socially anxious individual these visible symptoms of anxiety can also be potentially observed by others who may as before judge them as unacceptable or in some way ridiculous.

Where does it come from?                                                      Like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety likely arises from a complex interaction of environment and genes.

Genetic Causes: As the condition is more common in families (appears to run in families). There is ongoing research which attempts to find out how much of this is genetic versus acquired learning (if family members are anxious, the offspring will learn that behaviour). A specific social anxiety ‘gene’ has yet to be discovered.

Chemical: Scientists are currently undergoing research into what natural body chemicals might be playing a part in the development of social anxiety disorder. Serotonin, a brain chemical, may play a key role when its brain levels are not right or if the patient is extremely sensitive, some scientists suggest.

Brain: Some experts believe the amygdala (part of the brain) may play a role in fear response, resulting in an excessive reaction in patients with an overactive amygdala.

Demographic: Mediterranean countries have lower rates of social anxiety disorder compared to Scandinavian countries. This could be due to warmer weather as well as a higher population density in the Mediterranean countries. Warmer weather may reduce avoidance and increase interpersonal contact. Others suggest that the factors may be cultural.

Negative Experiences:  Children who experience teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule or humiliation may be more prone to social anxiety disorder. In addition, other negative events in life, such as family conflict or sexual abuse, may be associated with social anxiety disorder.

So what to do about it? The good news is that help is there for you and your life does not have to be consumed by social anxiety...but it takes work!  Social anxiety disorder is commonly treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that first became popular in the 1980s and 1990s for treating anxiety disorders.While learning to become your own therapist is one of the primary goals of CBT, it is often most helpful to work through the therapy strategies with a qualified psychotherapist.
Also some helpful self-help tips are available here

If you feel you need help from an experienced psychotherapist in this area please contact True Horizon Counselling & Psychotherapy on 087-4447733