By M. Jedediah
Who among us has never been in a large group of people and felt timid, nervous, and even downright terrified? Feelings such as these can happen from time to time, especially if we are a generally shy person. But when feelings of fear and panic are present in all situations such as these, you may be exhibiting signs of social anxiety – persistent and severe heightened fear and panic in social situations. When these feelings take over and begin to impact the way in which you socialize and engage in personal relationships, it is thought that treatment can significantly benefit the way in which we manage these overwhelming feelings.
Social anxiety is defined as feelings of fear or panic in anticipation of social situations – or while participating in social situations. These psychological feelings that people are judging you or you are under a microscope can lead to physical symptoms that may include increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking, headache, and diarrhea, among others. While social anxiety is considered an occurrence, social anxiety disorder falls within the umbrella of anxiety disorder that encapsulates everything from generalized anxiety disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias.
A diagnosis of social anxiety disorder is generally made when there is ongoing and persistent feelings of panic and apprehension associated with commonplace social situations; daily life is thwarted by these feelings of anxiety and the sufferer sees the ramifications in their relationships – familial, platonic, and romantic. People who experience this type of anxiety feel as if their every move is being watched and they are convinced that they will humiliate themselves in a room full of people. Often the fear is so palpable that all social interaction is avoided in order to avoid the feeling.
In fact, for anyone who has ever experienced stage fright while performing in front of a group of people, the feelings associated with social anxiety are much the same thing. Those who suffer from this type of anxiety feel in a constant state of stage fright whenever they are in social situations – as if they are expected to perform.
Not surprisingly, those who suffer with this anxiety – and are not aware of the magnitude or definition of what they are managing – will often attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs during social engagements. Such substances often have the ability to lower inhibitions enough that sufferers can mange their social time without feeling incapacitated. But this is hardly the safe or effective way to treat anxiety.
Treating this anxiety can be done in a number of ways. Cognitive-behavioral therapy with a licensed and reputable therapist teaches the patient how to rewire their thoughts and change their behaviors associated with the source of anxiety. Often there is a certain amount of exposure therapy wherein the patient is introduced to sources of anxiety – but in a controlled and safe environment. The hope is that continued exposure with positive outcomes will eventually desensitize the patient from this type of anxiety.
Medication is also available that treats a wide variety of anxiety. Your doctor is best in the position to determine what medication may work for you and will monitor your progress. In most cases, a combination of therapy and medication works most successfully in treating social anxiety.
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