Did you know that there are over 264 million adults in the world dealing with anxiety, of which Social Anxiety Disorder is the most common? Did you also know that it affects mostly girls and women and that most would have developed the condition as early as age, 11? Unfortunately, most people don’t take social anxiety disorder seriously, whether it is in an adult or in a child, but the truth is that this condition is not just shyness, and these people are not ‘lazy’. They are bright, capable people, who need support and assistance to deal with their condition.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), also known as Social Phobia, is more than mere shyness. It is in fact, a condition that is chronic, pernicious and has neurobiological underpinnings. Since limited information was available earlier, many adolescents growing up before the 80’s tried to make sense of their intense fears and anxieties all by themselves. They were often told to just pull themselves together or to ‘get over’ their condition, adding further stress to their already anxious lives. However, things have changed now and more information is available. Not only the condition has a diagnosis, but it also has a cure.
Who is more prone to SAD?
SAD is incidentally one of most common types of the six types of anxiety disorders known, and it affects women more. The onset of SAD typically begins during adolescence and early adulthood. It may begin around age 11 in about 50% and by age 20 in about 80% of the population. Those with SAD are also at a high risk of depression and substance abuse and though most of the patients are typically behaviourally inhibited, there exists a subgroup that copes with anxiety by being impulsive, making them even more prone to alcohol and drug abuse.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms include persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations, and of unfavourable scrutiny or negative evaluation. What does that mean? It means that people with Social Anxiety Disorder would constantly live in the fear of social situations and interactions, whether they are at school, college or are adults at work, or in gathering. People suffering from this condition are always afraid of being judged, so much so that they get physical symptoms like heart palpitations, increased heart rate and sweaty palms. They may also get a sick feeling in their stomach or even ‘jelly legs’. Sometimes, the situation is so distressing that they feel that they are having a heart attack.
In spite of recognising that their fears are unreasonable, these people, can’t ‘just get over it’. It’s not really in their hands. Believe me they would love to ‘get over’ it, if they could. In spite of trying to overcome their fears, they continue to experience anxieties and go to great lengths to avoid social situations because it really, really distresses them. As a result they miss out on social and economic opportunities, let go of promotions and often bail out of important gatherings.
Impact on family
Unfortunately, it’s not just the ones suffering from SAD who are impacted but the effects of SAD is felt by the families as well. They end up either frustrated or helpless at their loved ones’ conditions. Parents are frustrated when their tween or teen refuses to speak up or join in, and they may often end up getting angry. It’s the same situation when a spouse is suffering from this condition, and often leads to marital discord. The other way that SAD can affect a family is by increasing the chance of passing the gene to the next generation. According to research, if you have a relative with SAD, you are almost 2 to 6 times more likely to develop the disorder.
The cause of SAD is either genetic or environmental. This means that some people have a temperamental bias to interpersonal sensitivity while others develop SAD due to prior experiences of humiliation, rejection or shame that conditions them to fear, and leads them to avoid certain social situations. The biological causal factor is highlighted by the fact that the brain imaging of people with SAD displays greater activity in amygdala, the part of the brain involved in the processing of emotions such as fear.
The Psychological causal factors can include learned behaviour, evolutionary factors, perception of uncontrollability or unpredictability, and cognitive bias towards danger schemes. Thus, if a child observes a parent with anxieties, he or she is more likely to develop socially anxious tendencies through observational learning or information transfer. Additionally, negative social beliefs and high social expectations can all lead to social avoidance. Limited exposure to social situations as a child and having rejecting, controlling, critical, or overprotective parents may also increase the likelihood of developing SAD.
Worldwide statistics for 2020 points to 264 million adults with anxiety, of which social anxiety is the most common. So, if you or your loved one suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder, please know that you are not alone. Also know that there is help and cure. Through support, therapy and if need be, medications, those with social anxiety disorder can move towards a life of full potential.