SAD is far more common than we might think.  Millions of people around the world suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) (also known as “social phobia” and sometimes referred to as “performance anxiety disorder” when a person experiences anxiety in specific circumstances such as public speaking) and related conditions.  It is understood to be the most common type of anxiety disorder and the cause of much difficulty, distress and suffering.  However, it is under-recognised and under-treated.  Yet almost everyone knows what it is like to feel shy or lacking in social confidence, often to an extent whereby it can limit choices, options, opportunities and happiness.  Because social anxiety issues are still relatively unknown amongst the wider public, most aren”t even aware that something which can have such a huge impact on their own lives has a name!  It can exist as a specific social anxiety (i.e. fear of public speaking) or, more commonly as a more generalized social anxiety.

What is SAD?

SAD often manifests itself as a fear of interaction with other people which brings on feelings of self-consciousness, rejection, failure, or of being negatively judged and/or evaluated by or simply feeling embarrassed in front of other people.  It lead can to avoidance behaviour and can have a disruptive, negative effect on how you live your life, including (but not limited to) your ability to:

  • feel comfortable interacting with anyone at all;
  • invite people into your home;
  • make new relationships or try new things
  • meet new people;
  • speak in public;
  • speak to figures in authority;
  • give presentations at work
  • feel confident about your general performance at work;
  • performance well in your chosen sport or competition; and
  • engage in pastimes that you might otherwise enjoy such as eating out or going shopping.

If you feel (irrationally) anxious in any of the social situations above (or other social situations not mentioned) and it feels as though it’s better or easier to be alone, then SAD may be the problem.

Specific and generalised social anxiety

As with a number of different anxiety-based problems, social anxiety can be specific (to a situation, event or group of people) or generalised, where a person feels generally anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable in almost all social situations.

It is common for people with social anxiety to have a generalized type of social anxiety.  When the anticipatory feelings of anxiety, worry, indecision, depression, embarrassment, or feelings of inferiority, and self-blame are involved in many or most life situations, where a person is required outside of perceived safety and comfort of being alone or at most in a a small group of trusted persons.  A good example of generalised form of social anxiety is often seen at work.

Symptoms of SAD

People with SAD usually experience significant and irrational emotional and psychological distress in some all social situations.  They may experience a range of cognitive and physical symptoms as they become anxious.  These are largely the same as are felt with many anxiety related disorders and might include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • feeling hot, blushing or sweating;
  • headache;
  • feeling nauseas (or feeling as though the stomach is churning or has butterflies);
  • dry mouth;
  • heart racing or palpitations;
  • tightness in chest;
  • feeling faint;
  • shaky hands;
  • facial freezing or tension;
  • grinding the teeth;
  • urgency to use the toilet;
  • inability to think straight (or mind goes blank);
  • thoughts racing;
  • stumbling over words;
  • inability to concentrate or recall things from short term memory;
  • becoming easily distracted;
  • wanting to cry; and
  • being self-critical.

This list is certainly not a complete list of symptoms – other feelings can and have been associated with social anxiety as well.  Perhaps most commonly, people who experience SAD often report having a constant feeling of intense and overpowering anxiety which makes them want to avoid completely or leave the situation.  People who suffer with social anxiety are often very capable of seeing that their anxiety is irrational but this is insufficient to make them feel able to cope with the situation or face their fear.  Often, people with SAD engage in a variety of safety seeking behaviours to try to avoid or disguise their discomfort.  These might include (but again are not limited to) the following:

  • becoming distracted (not listening or fidgeting);
  • avoiding eye contact;
  • not speaking at all or speaking quietly;
  • talking too much;
  • behaving non-assertively (i.e. not putting their point of view forward or simply agreeing with everything that is said even when they don’t agree with it);
  • avoiding starting conversations;
  • avoiding the situation altogether or making an excuse to leave;
  • missing appointments, meetings or classes;
  • choosing solitary activities or hobbies; and
  • (in extreme cases) becoming housebound.

The good news is that you don’t have to live in the shadows anymore!  You can learn to overcome SAD!  Research and clinical evidence alike indicate that comprehensive cognitive-behavioral therapy can produce permanent changes in people’s lives, equipping them with the tools ans skills they need to overcome their social anxiety.

Contact me for a free 20 minute face-to-face meeting or to arrange a 90 minute initial consultation.