We all know the feeling of being nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation. Maybe you’ve clammed up when meeting someone new or gotten sweaty palms before making a big presentation. Public speaking or walking into a roomful of strangers isn’t exactly thrilling for everybody, but most people can get through it.
If you have social anxiety disorder, though, the stress of these situations is too much to handle. You might avoid all social contact because things that other people consider “normal” -- like making small talk and eye contact -- make you so uncomfortable. All aspects of your life, not just the social, could start to fall apart as a result.
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is one of the most common mental disorders, so if you have it, there’s hope. The tough part is being able to ask for help. Here’s how to know if your social silence has gone beyond shyness to a point where you need to see a doctor.
Anxiety disorders are different then just feeling nervous once in a while. They are a group of mental illnesses, and the distress they cause can keep you from carrying on with your life normally.
For people who have one, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming. This can easily be disabling. With treatment, however, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life.
What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term that includes different conditions. For example:
- Panic disorder. You feel terror that strikes at random. During a panic attack, you may also sweat, have chest pain, and feel palpitations (unusually strong or irregular heartbeats). Sometimes you may feel like you’re choking or having a heart attack.
- Social anxiety disorder. Also called social phobia, this is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. You fixate about others judging you or on being embarrassed or ridiculed.
- Specific phobias. You feel intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. The fear goes beyond what’s appropriate and may cause you to avoid ordinary situations.
- Generalized anxiety disorder. You feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.
What are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?
In general all anxiety disorders share some general symptoms, such as:
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Sleep problems
- Inability to stay calm and still
- Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
Researchers don’t know exactly what brings on anxiety disorders. Like other forms of mental illness, they stem from a combination of things, including changes in your brain and environmental stress, and even your genes. The disorders can run in families and could be linked to faulty circuits in the brain that control fear and other emotions.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?
If you have symptoms, your doctor will examine you and ask for your medical history. Your doctor may run tests to rule out medical illnesses that might be causing your symptoms. No lab tests can specifically diagnose anxiety disorders.
If your doctor doesn’t find any medical reason for how you’re feeling, your doctor may send you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health specialist. Those doctors will ask you questions and use tools and testing to find out if you may have an anxiety disorder.
Your doctor will consider how long and how intense your symptoms are when diagnosing you. Your doctor should also check to see if the symptoms keep you from carrying out your normal activities.
How is Psychotherapy Used to Treat Anxiety?
Psychotherapy is a type of counseling that addresses the emotional response to mental illness. A mental health specialist helps you by talking about how to understand and deal with your anxiety disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a certain type of psychotherapy that teaches you how to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that trigger deep anxiety or panic.
What can help to manage the symptoms of anxiety disorders?
These tips may help you control or lessen your symptoms:
- Cut down on foods and drinks that have caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine is a mood-altering drug, and it may make symptoms of anxiety disorders worse.
- Eat right, exercise, and get better sleep. Brisk aerobic exercises like jogging and biking help release brain chemicals that cut stress and improve your mood. Taking an extra high quality herbal supplement that has the micro-nutrients that you might have missed out on throughout the day will help as well.
- Yoga and meditation do the body and mind good. If done right it will help you discipline your mind so that the mind chatter that is causing so much anxiety will die down to a dim hum.
- Sleep problems and anxiety disorders often go hand in hand. Make getting good rest a priority. Follow a relaxing bedtime routine. Talk to your doctor if you still have trouble sleeping.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter meds. Many contain chemicals that can make anxiety symptoms worse.
What are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD affects the way you think, but the anxiety can lead to physical symptoms, as well. These can include:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being on edge
- Muscle tension
- Trouble concentrating
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Being easily startled
Can People with Generalized anxiety Disorders Have Other Disorders?
Yes. They often have other anxiety disorders (like panic disorder or phobias), obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, or additional problems with drug or alcohol misuse.
Some research suggests that family history makes it more likely that you'll develop GAD. This means the tendency to get it may be passed on in families.
GAD in brain chemistry has been linked to problems with nerve cell pathways that connect particular brain regions involved in thinking and emotion. These connections depend on chemicals called neurotransmitters that send information from one nerve cell to the next. If the pathways don't work like they should, you could have trouble with mood or anxiety.
Do Environmental Factors Cause Generalized Anxiety Distress Disorder?
Trauma and stressful events, like abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, changing jobs or schools, may contribute to GAD. It also may get worse during periods of stress. Using and withdrawing from addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, can also worsen anxiety.
How Does Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
This type of therapy teaches you to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious feelings. It helps limit distorted thinking by showing you how to look at your worries more realistically.
When does Social Anxiety Occur?
Anyone with social anxiety disorder can experience it in different ways, but here are some common situations that people with the condition tend to have trouble with:
- Talking to strangers
- Speaking in public
- Making eye contact
- Entering rooms
- Using public restrooms
- Going to parties
- Eating in front of other people
- Going to school or work
- Starting conversations
The things mentioned above stem from different overwhelming fears such as:
- Being judged by others in social situations
- Being embarrassed or humiliated -- and showing it by blushing, sweating, or shaking
- Accidentally offending someone
- Being the center of attention
What Does Social Anxiety Disorder Feel Like?
Again, the experience may be different for everyone, but if you have social anxiety and you’re in a stressful situation, you might have physical symptoms like:
You may start feeling anxious immediately before an event, or you might spend weeks worrying about it. Afterward, you could spend a lot of time and mental energy worrying about how you acted.
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Dizziness and lightheaded
- Stomach trouble and diarrhea
- Inability to catch breath
- "Out-of-body” sensations
Most of those who have read this article can relate to having a symptom or two in having an anxiety disorder. Statistics show that 80% of us in the United States will have these symptoms sometime in our lifetime.
The most important thing to see and realize is that we are all in this discovery of anxiety to recovery from anxiety together. Try to focus on being open minded, supportive, non-judgmental and compassionate with the people around you. They might say or do something that rubs you the wrong way. The question that you need to ask yourself is what trials are they being challenged with in their mind? Is it affecting their behavior towards you? Of course creating strong boundaries in any relationship is so very important. With those strong boundaries consider giving someone the benefit of the doubt when they are crossed. Talk to them about why they did what they did and try to see things from their perspective. Put yourself in their shoes for a day and try to feel the things that they feel, walking with them through their experiences. If you are willing to exercise patience and compassion with those around you, it will smooth over many a misunderstanding. It will also give you a better peace of mind.