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TriStar Centennial Medical Center
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Social Anxiety Disorder

Definition

Social anxiety disorder is the intense fear of social situations. People with social anxiety disorder:

  • Avoid interactions with other people
  • Are extremely afraid of being judged negatively by others
  • Feel humiliated, embarrassed, and inadequate more easily than others

Social anxiety may be:

  • Generalized to all social interactions
  • Specific to certain social situations, such as public speaking

Social anxiety disorder is much more severe than shyness. It can interfere with work, school, or other situations, as well as cause physical symptoms.

Physical Reactions of Anxiety
Physical reaction anxiety
© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The exact cause is unknown. Possible causes include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Problems with the regulation of chemicals in the brain
  • Past emotional trauma in social situations

Risk Factors

Social anxiety disorder is most common in adolescence and early adulthood. It is almost twice as common in women than in men. Other factors that may increase your chance of social anxiety disorder include:

Symptoms

Symptoms may begin in any public situation such as:

  • Being teased or criticized
  • Being the center of attention
  • Meeting new people
  • Interacting with authority figures
  • Interacting with members of the opposite sex
  • Eating, writing, or speaking in public
  • Using public toilets

Symptoms during these social interactions may include:

  • Blushing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dry throat and mouth
  • Muscle twitches
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Lightheadness

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your fears and symptoms. A physical exam may be done. You may be referred to a mental health specialist. A psychiatric evaluation may be done.

Treatment

Treatments may include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

During cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the therapist may:

  • Help you change your negative thought patterns and behaviors
  • Teach you techniques to help you control anxiety symptoms, such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation
  • Suggest changes to your social environment to minimize stress
  • Gradually expose you to feared situations in a controlled environment

A support group may also be part of your treatment.

Medication

The following medications may be used to help control symptoms:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants—to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Beta-blockers—to stop the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety (has been used to relieve the performance anxiety that often occurs with social anxiety disorder)

Other medications may include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anticonvulsants

Prevention

There are no guidelines to prevent social anxiety disorder. However, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications, such as:

  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Difficulties at school, work, or in your personal life

Revision Information

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America

    http://www.adaa.org

  • Social Anxiety Association

    http://www.socialphobia.org

  • Canadian Psychiatric Association

    http://www.cpa-apc.org

  • Canadian Psychological Association

    http://cpa.ca

  • Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273. Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2016.

  • Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 17, 2015. Accessed January 26, 2016.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. TriStar Health does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.