Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?

We all feel a little nervous before attending some social gatherings and are wary of being judged by peers or strangers. For example, your mind races before getting up to deliver a public speech, you have butterflies in your stomach when the teacher asks you a question in front of the class, and so on. These feelings of anxiety are normal and usually subside over some time.

People with SAD or social phobia, however, experience intense fear and anxiety when they feel that they are the subject of attention. For such people, everyday social situations such as attending a conference or meeting at work, making a presentation, attending a wedding or a party, or going out for a meal with friends, can trigger severe anxiety.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

People with SAD display a combination of physical and behavioral symptoms. The physical symptoms include trembling, sweating, nausea and stammering when trying to speak. These symptoms make the person more self-conscious because they believe that people around have noticed, leading to a deep sense of humiliation and embarrassment for the sufferer. As a result, their behavior may change in the following ways:

  • They try to avoid situations where they might have to speak.
  • They withdraw from their personal and professional relationships.
  • They usually avoid eye contact in social settings.

These symptoms can be very distressing for the person, and they may have trouble coping with daily life. If you have noticed these symptoms in someone you know, try and talk to them about consulting a mental health professional.

What causes SAD?

 Some of the factors that can cause SAD are:

  • Family history: It is generally believed that anxiety disorders run in the family. However, it is not clear whether this is merely genetics, or whether it’s a behavior that the child has learned.

  • Past experiences: Early childhood experiences where one has been bullied in school, or faced some form of humiliation may develop SAD.

  • Childhood traits: Children who are excessively shy or clingy may be at risk when they reach their late teenage years.

Getting treatment for SAD

SAD can be a very distressing ailment, but it is treatable. Many people are able to cope with social situations after receiving proper treatment and learning coping skills. Like other anxiety disorders, treatment of SAD includes medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be very effective in treating SAD. Social anxiety disorder medication is prescribed to help reduce anxiety and discomfort. Recovery time varies from one person to another, but it is important that you adhere to the treatment plan.

Caring for someone with SAD

If you have noticed any of the above-mentioned symptoms in someone you know, you may want to speak to them about the disorder, and suggest that they seek professional help. Offer to accompany them when they are visiting the doctor. Learn about the disorder so that you can better understand what the person is going through. Be patient and supportive, and keep encouraging the person to continue with the treatment if it is taking more time.  

Coping with SAD

If you have been experiencing symptoms of social phobia, you should reach out for professional help at the earliest so that you may learn how to overcome social anxiety disorder. If you are not comfortable with the idea, you may want to speak to someone you trust and ask them to accompany you to consult a mental health expert. Making positive lifestyle changes always help improve your wellbeing. Establish a good routine and make sure that you get enough sleep and exercise. You could also join a support group as connecting with people facing similar problems also helps in the recovery process. Treatment can sometimes take longer than you anticipate, but it is vital that you do not lose hope and continue with the treatment.