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You’re at an office holiday party surrounded by co-workers and people you’ve never met before. Suddenly, your boss nudges you to a podium to give a speech about last year’s record sales numbers. You immediately begin to sweat, tremble, your mouth feels dry, and you feel nauseous. What’s happening?

WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER?

“It’s normal to feel nervous in some social situations. For example, going on a date or giving a presentation may cause that feeling of butterflies in your stomach. But in social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged by others.” All of the fear and anxiety results in avoidance and disruptions to your daily life, work, school or other activities.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?

While it doesn’t have one specific cause, there are many risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a social anxiety disorder. A person who’s naturally more reserved and someone who’s experienced trauma like childhood abuse or neglect are at a greater risk of developing the disorder. Additionally, someone with a first-degree blood relative – a parent or sibling – who has the disorder is up to six times more likely to experience a social anxiety disorder.

RISK FACTORS

Several factors can boost your chance of getting social anxiety disorder, including:

  • Family history. You’re at greater risk of developing social anxiety disorder if your biological parents or siblings suffer from the condition.
  • Children who are harmed by teasing, rejection, ridicule, bullying, or humiliation may be more susceptible to social anxiety disorder. Plus, other negative things in life, like family conflict, trauma or abuse, may be linked to social anxiety disorder.
  • Children who are restrained, shy, timid, or withdrawn when dealing with new situations or people can be at greater risk.
  • Even though social anxiety disorder symptoms normally begin in the teen years, new social or work demands – meeting new people, giving a public speech, or making a big work presentation – may trigger first-time symptoms.
  • Something that draws attention to yourself, like facial disfigurement, stuttering, or Parkinson’s disease tremors can make you feel self-consciousness and trigger the disorder in some people.

6 SIGNS OF LIVING WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY

If you think you have social anxiety but aren’t ready to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis, you can look for several signs which may indicate you have the disorder. Self-diagnosis can never replace the opinion of a trained professional– but it may help you better understand what you’re dealing with. The following may be signs you’re living with social anxiety.

  • You’re so self-aware that you become physically ill. Everyone at some point is concerned with how others will judge and accept them, but with social anxiety, you’re so preoccupied with it that worry and fear overwhelm every fiber in your body until you become physically ill.
  • You may blush, feel nauseous, or suffer other physical symptoms. It’s normal to be nervous sometimes in public, but blushing elevates your discomfort to a whole new game. You find yourself struggling to hide the heat and redness creeping up your neck and into your face – all the while, someone nearby smirks or laughs at your pain.
  • You worry for weeks prior to a big event, succumbing to something called anticipatory anxiety. 
  • You suddenly discover that you can’t talk – to anyone. Your mouth becomes dry, the words stuck in your throat, as thoughts race through your brain, and you’re powerless to control them.
  • You’re worried about humiliating yourself and avoid anywhere other people congregate.
  • You can’t stop worrying – about nothing, and everything. The fear is unreasonable but it’s all you think about.

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT FOR SOCIAL ANXIETY

Your doctor may offer a diagnosis based on:

  • Physical exam to help decide if a medical condition or medicine has triggered symptoms of social anxiety.
  • Talking about your symptoms, how often they happen, and when they happen.
  • Review a number of scenarios to see if you become anxious.
  • Self-reported questionnaires about your symptoms.
  • Criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Treatment depends on the degree to which social anxiety disorder affects your daily life. The two most popular forms of treatment for social anxiety disorder are counseling, medications, or both.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Social anxiety can be debilitating in certain situations, but with commitment and proper care, you can learn to overcome the symptoms and regain a semblance of control over your life. Some people turn to medicine or counseling, while others have discovered the benefits of ketamine therapy to manage their symptoms.

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