A type of anxiety disorder, social phobia or social anxiety is a condition that is characterized by extreme self-consciousness and excessive shyness in daily social situations. Someone affected by this intense anxiety fears the judgment of others, and the perception of his actions in everyday circumstances. In the United States, approximately 5.3 million individuals aged 18-54 suffers from social phobia each year.
Similar to other phobias, social anxiety is a reaction to a situation that is not actually threatening or dangerous, although the mind and body act as if there is true danger present. Individuals experiencing the anxiety feel the physical sensations of fear, including rapid breathing and heart rate. This is caused by the body’s fight-flight mechanism, the response that prepares the body to either defend itself or flee. Episodes of phobia are also often accompanied by other physical symptoms, including profuse sweating, blushing, and trembling. Many times, victims will have an intense desire to escape from the distressing situation.
Social phobia may be limited to only one type of social situation. The anxiety sufferer can experience symptoms in an informal setting, such as eating or drinking in front of others, or a more formal situation, like public speaking. Those with profound social phobia will exhibit symptoms just being in the presence of others. This disorder can severely alter a person’s existence, and can cause him to miss out on many of the simple pleasures of life.
There are several treatment options currently available for social phobia. New studies find that cognitive-behavior therapy is successful in three out of four cases of this disorder. Based on the perception that particular thought patterns can trigger certain mental health issues, the purpose of cognitive therapy is to change the patient's way of thinking to avoid these notions. This form of therapy is generally practiced in sessions of 50 minutes each over a span of several weeks.
Antidepressant medications are also a common form of social anxiety treatment. Antidepressants can reduce the symptoms of social phobia by intervening with brain chemicals called serotonin, which may be causing anxiety. There are numerous types of antidepressants, each with both positive and negative aspects. The most common and successful form are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).
Social phobia generally begins in the teenage years, and rarely develops after the age of 25. While the condition occurs in females twice as often as males, a greater percentage of men will seek help for it. Unless treated, social anxiety can be a lifelong disorder.