What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

THE MAIN POINT:
Social Anxiety Disorder involves intense anxiety or fear related to certain social situations, which interferes with daily life. It is diagnosed by a health care professional. Both medication and psychotherapy have been shown to be effective in treating social anxiety disorder. Although we don’t know what causes it, research is dedicated toward better understanding factors that contribute to developing social anxiety disorder.

THE DETAILS:
Social Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia, involves feelings of intense anxiety or fear related to certain social situations. The anxiety or fear is severe enough to interfere with one’s work and/or personal life. Often, individuals with social anxiety want to interact with others, yet avoid these interactions because they are so uncomfortable.

Some common features of social anxiety disorder include feeling very shy when meeting new people and being uncomfortable in social settings. When interacting with others, individuals with social anxiety often feel fearful, and experience heart racing, sweating, or difficulty concentrating. Often, individuals with social anxiety are very critical of themselves and worry about how others will judge them. These feelings and thoughts often lead them to avoid social interactions.

Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed by a health care professional. If you would like to be evaluated for social anxiety disorder, let your health care professional know about your concerns. An evaluation will involve asking you a series of questions about your symptoms and current functioning. Often, social anxiety can co-occur with other conditions, such as depression. If you do have social anxiety disorder, your health care professional can help you determine the best course of treatment for you.

What is the treatment for social anxiety?
The good news is that social anxiety can be treated. Both psychotherapy and medications have been shown by research to be helpful. A health care professional can help you decide the best course of treatment for you.

What causes social anxiety?
Although we don’t know exactly what causes social anxiety disorder, a great amount of research is dedicated towards better understanding factors that contribute to it. Some evidence suggests that there are certain traits that run in families that may put individuals at risk for social anxiety. Brain imaging studies have also shown differences in the way that the brain responds to social information.

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Reference:
Stein, M.B., & Stein, D.J. (2008). Social Anxiety Disorder. Lancet, 371, 1115-1125.

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