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Social Phobia

Symptoms and treatment for social anxiety phobia

Social phobia is alternately called social anxiety disorder because the term phobia is somewhat inappropriate for the more pervasive forms of the condition. Social anxiety phobia is a disorder, which makes the individual feel apprehensive and afraid of being observed or critically judged and brings about feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment and humiliation. It is a largely misunderstood mental disorder and is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or major depression in about 90 percent of the cases. This disorder affects almost 15 million Americans a year and can lead to complete social isolation and depression. Although most adult individuals realize that their fears are not justified and are irrational, this realization may be absent in children with social anxiety.

The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center reported that social anxiety phobia in children is sometimes triggered by situations such as performing in front of others, speaking in front of the class and previous negative social experiences such as teasing, bullying or a particularly embarrassing public incident with depression usually following. Children usually express the anxiety as crying, tantrums, freezing or shrinking from situations involving unfamiliar people.

Causes of Social Anxiety Phobia

The causes of social phobia are unclear, but many factors are believed to play a role. Heredity is one, as are environmental factors such as the parents being overprotective or perhaps they are phobic themselves; in this case, the child's social anxiety could be a learned response. Neurological factors such as a possible chemical imbalance of the brain also could play a role. These factors and the stress related to them are unhealthy if left untreated, and promote alcoholism, drug abuse and the beginning of other related mental disorders such as agoraphobia, panic attacks, major depression and low self-esteem.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Phobia

The symptoms of social anxiety phobia apply to social events in every area of life and can inhibit everyday tasks such as simply going to the grocery store or writing a check. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Fear of being introduced to other people
  • Being criticized
  • Being observed
  • Eating or drinking in public
  • Making speeches
  • Being afraid of making a fool of oneself
  • Attending any function in which one may be the center of attention

Physical manifestations of social anxiety phobia include:

  • Intense fear
  • Racing heart
  • Turning red or blushing
  • Dry throat and mouth
  • Trembling
  • Swallowing with difficulty
  • Muscle twitches
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness

Treatment of Social Anxiety Phobia

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to work effectively by allowing a therapist to help identify the automatic negative thoughts that underlie the individual's fears. Exposure therapy is then implemented; the individual is exposed to the situations he or she fears gradually and repeatedly in a safe and controlled environment. The advantage to this form of therapy is that the improvements last once treatment has ended.

Drug therapy is also sometimes used and has proved efficient, but some of the medications have side effects and the relapse rate is high once treatment has ended.

Living with Social Anxiety Phobia

The most important element in living with social anxiety phobia is the understanding and awareness of the problem. A commitment by the individual is necessary to implement and practice techniques that will help them control their anxiety and prevent the symptoms from occurring. The key is to make these techniques as automatic as the thoughts that provoked the fears to begin with. Living with social anxiety phobia can be achieved and life can become normal once again.

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