What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition. People with it are afraid of being judged or rejected by others. To avoid this, they stay away from groups of people. This disorder affects close to 15 million Americans. It's one of the more common anxiety problems in the country. In severe cases, people may have trouble working and try to avoid being around other people.

Causes of social anxiety disorder

Scientists don't know what causes social anxiety disorder. They do believe certain genetic and environmental factors can lead to it. For example, people with social anxiety disorder may have an overactive amygdala. This part of the brain manages fear levels. Others start to avoid social situations because of something embarrassing that happened in the past. Over time, their fear grows. It's also possible that people with social anxiety disorder have poor social skills. Because they don't know how to mix with groups of people, they avoid social settings.

Risk factors for social anxiety disorder

Some people are more likely to develop social anxiety disorder than others. This group includes people who don't like being in crowds. Those who don't like being in unfamiliar situations also have a greater risk. Social anxiety disorder is more common among people with conditions like Parkinson's disease or Bell's palsy. They may feel embarrassed by the way their bodies look. Other risk factors include:

  • Temperament because naturally shy or timid people may feel more fear around others
  • Family history because many people who have this disorder have children or siblings with it
  • Environment because victims of abuse, teasing and bullying tend to withdraw in response to the abuse
  • Physical appearance because people who have a disfigurement may not want to draw attention to it

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder

People with social anxiety disorder aren't just shy. Many of them know that their fears are irrational. They just don't know how to control them. When faced with a situation that triggers their fear, they may have the following symptoms:

  • Analyzing conversations and actions after a social situation to identify mistakes
  • Blushing around other people
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Refusing to get a job or engage in community activities
  • Refusing to talk to strangers
  • Refusing to walk into a room after others have arrived
  • Staying away from places and events to avoid being around people
  • Sweating and/or trembling
  • Talking with a soft or shaky voice
  • Worrying about doing something embarrassing in front of others
  • Worrying that others might pick up on the anxiety

Diagnosis of social anxiety disorder

A psychologist or medical doctor can diagnose social anxiety disorder. They compare your symptoms to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This book tells them what symptoms to look for and how to determine that this disorder is causing them. The doctor may also give you a physical examination. There's no blood test for social anxiety disorder. Your doctor still might check it to make sure something else isn't causing the problem.

Treatments for social anxiety disorder

Treatment for social anxiety disorder varies from person to person. It may include therapy, drugs or a combination of both. Many people find success with cognitive behavioral therapy. In those sessions, they learn how to change their thought patterns. This helps reduce the nervous feelings they have around other people. Others join support groups. There they interact with others who deal with similar challenges. Group members get feedback and share tips for dealing with their symptoms. In some cases, doctors prescribe drugs. The most common are anxiety medicines, antidepressants or beta-blockers.

Recovery from social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a chronic condition. That means it can return. You may have to work at treating it and reducing symptoms for life. It's important to follow your doctor's instructions. Take your prescribed medication and attend therapy sessions when possible. This lessens the effects of the disorder.