By-Dr. David Prescott
Social Phobia is a type of Anxiety Disorder: Phobias are intense, excessive fears about certain objects or situations. While most people experience heightened anxiety in some situations, people with phobias find their fears to be debilitating. One common type of phobia is termed social phobia, or social anxiety. Typically, symptoms of social phobia are first evident in the early teenage years.
Social phobia impacts about 15 million Americans, and it causes everyday social situations to become fraught with anxiety and embarrassment. Social Phobia is one type of anxiety disorder along with problems like panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Together, anxiety disorders impact nearly one in every five people.
Defining Social Phobia: Social Phobia was long associated with being shy or timid, and its impact on people's lives was minimized. However, in the early 1980's, psychologists and other researchers began to focus on how social anxiety could be debilitating for some people. The essence of Social Phobia is:
· Overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness when a person interacts with others.
· Intense, chronic fear of being watched and judged by others.
· Extreme fear of doing things that will cause embarrassment during a social interaction.
· Intense physical and subjective anxiety in most social situations; for example, feeling sick to your stomach, sweating, or racing heart.
Brain Activity and Social Phobia: Recent research on social phobia highlights the fact that mental health problems involve a complex interaction of brain chemistry, thinking patterns, and behaviors. Brain images of people with social phobia were compared to a control group after receiving a critical comment such as "You are ugly." The people with social phobia exhibited significantly higher levels of brain activity in brain areas responsible for emotional arousal and areas responsible for self-evaluation. Thus, it appears that people with social phobia experience a heightened brain response to criticism, which likely contributes to their fear of social situations.
"Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place:" Getting a Person with Social Phobia to Seek Help. The struggle to seek help with a psychological problem is especially difficult for people with Social Phobia. Like all social interactions, the thought of meeting with a counselor is likely to cause intense anxiety and fear of embarrassment. Family members and friends can help by providing extra support, perhaps by accompanying the person to their first visit.
Treatment for Social Phobia: All anxiety disorders, including Social Phobia, have an excellent change of improving with treatment. People with social phobia often would like to be with other people more often, or would like to reach out to friends. However, when the moment comes, they typically experience extremely high levels of anxiety and feel compelled to change their plans.
Treatment can help people with social phobia overcome this pattern of fear and avoidance. The types of treatment that are effective include:
· Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying and changing thinking patterns which cause and perpetuate anxiety. These thinking patterns, and the behavior that follows, can be changed to break the cycle of escalating anxiety and avoidance of social interaction.
· Medications: The most commonly used medications for social phobia are anti-anxiety medications, such as Klonopin, or a class of antidepressant medications called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) often help make anxiety more manageable. Medications are often a helpful adjunct to "talk" therapies.
· Behavior Therapy: Behavior Therapy, like systematic relaxation training, can be used to teach specific skills to reduce anxiety.
For More Information:
Acadia Hospital www.acadiahospital.org
National Institute of Mental Health www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications
American Psychological Association www.apahelpcenter.org
TV5 Forecast Center
Health Watch: Social Phobia
By-Dr. David Prescott
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