Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

A Concept of Social Phobia

Defining Social Phobia

Social phobia is a specific type of anxiety-related behavioral disorder that renders people nervous and conscious on occasions they have to face large crowds. While stage fright is a common thing, social phobia can take its toll on individuals. Psychologically, sociability is closely tied with dopamine secretion and patients suffering from this disorder usually have a low binding affinity of the dopamine molecules in the brain.

People suffering from this disorder may have fear of an entire gamut of social interactions. Such “baseless” and “unreasonable” fears may turn these patients paranoid and may force them to eventually stay aloof from any interaction, even those involving their family members. It is mostly found in patients at an early age in their lives and such an early outset of a mental illness makes them susceptible to a number of other disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are some other forms of anxiet disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Social Phobia

  • Excessive self-consciousness in daily situations
  • Intense worry for long time before an upcoming interaction ( i.e. a date, a presentation)
  • Fear of being evaluated by others
  • Fear of humiliating yourself
  • Fear of being caught while you are nervous
  • Blushing during interactions
  • Short breath
  • Upset stomach (butterflies)
  • Shaky voice
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Staying quiet or hiding behind others to escape being noticed
  • Substance abuse before interactions in order to calm yourself

Cause and Risk Factors

Scientists and researchers have been unable to point out the exact causes of social phobia, however, one or more of the following can cause this disorder. While most scholars and medics attribute it to traumatic or embarrassing interactions during childhood and a general diffidence due to a closed upbringing, there are a number of scientific, neurobiological and social reasons too that explain this disorder. Patients suffering from this disorder may have developed a fear of interactions because their Amygdala (a vital part of the limbic system that facilitates learning) might have become abnormal due to certain traumatic events during their childhood or growing years. The following are risk factors for social phobia:

  • Traumatic/ embarrassing experiences in the past
  • Lack of confidence, amplified by lack of counseling
  • A bullying peer group
  • Cultural influences (some societies are designed to be “not so open”)
  • Substance abuse (substances that impact with the dopamine secretion in the brain)
  • Psychological factors such as the fear of rejection

Patients of this disorder usually become recluse and it may go undetected for a very long time. If left untreated, people with this disorder can fear daily social situations and avoid public places where other individuals may be present such as public restrooms and grocery stores. This may impact relationships with others and become detrimental to everyday living. Such patients are exposed to a number of risks such as:

  • Being aloof
  • Zero social circle
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Having trouble in carrying out day to day activities like taking exams, facing interviews, performing on stage, and attending parties
  • Patients stand a risk of substance abuse and alcoholism

Treatment

Like most behavioral disorders, social phobia can be treated at 2 levels: psychological and pathological. Psychologically, the treatment is all about making the patient get rid of the negative thoughts that come to his/her mind when faced with a social situation. CBT (cognitive behavioral Therapy) for this disorder mostly revolves around challenging these thoughts and changing the behavioral “first” reaction of the patient towards social interactions.

Meditation is another way of curbing the fear of social interactions. Most meditation theories are based on the ability to control one’s breath. If you are able to control your breath, you can reverse the amount of dopamine and adrenaline secretion in your body, thereby reducing the “visible” signs of nervousness. You should stop taking respite in substance abuse to overcome your fears.

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