Social Phobia / Social Anxiety / Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety affects millions of people but unlike some other psychological problems, social anxiety is not well understood by the general public or by medical and mental health care professionals..
Because few socially-anxious people have heard of their own problem, and have never seen it discussed on any media, such as the television talk shows, they think they are the only ones in the whole world who have these terrible symptoms. Therefore, they must keep quiet about them. It would be awful if everyone realized how much anxiety they experienced in daily life. Then what would people think about them? Unfortunately, without some kind of education, knowledge, and appropriate treatment, social phobia/social anxiety continues to wreak havoc.
Making the situation more difficult is that social anxiety does not come and go like some other physical and psychological problems. If you have social anxiety one day...... you have it every day.....
As with all problems, everyone with social anxiety has slightly different secondary symptoms. Some people, for example, cannot write in public because they fear people are watching and their hand will shake. Others are very introverted and they find it too difficult to hold down a job. Still others have severe anxiety about eating or drinking in the presence of other people. Some people with social anxiety feel that a certain part of their body (such as the face or neck) are particularly "strange looking" and vulnerable to being stared at.
Others experience a muscle spasm (usually around the neck and shoulders) and it becomes the center of their focus. (See also Dystonia / Tics).
When excessive blushing or sweating is involved and becomes the main focus of the phobic response social phobia can evolve into erythrophobia.
One thing that all socially anxious people share is the knowledge that their thoughts and fears are basically irrational. That is, people with social anxiety know that others are really not critically judging or evaluating them all the time. They understand that people are not trying to embarrass or humiliate them. They realize that their thoughts and feelings are somewhat exaggerated and irrational. Yet, despite this rational knowledge, they still continue to feel differently.
It is these automatic "feelings" and thoughts that occur around social situations that must be met and conquered in therapy. Usually these anxious feelings are tied to thoughts that are entwined in a vicious cycle of negative expectations and negative appraisals. It is a catch-22 situation: there is no way out without the appropriate therapy.
Off Record Note: In some respects the concept of social anxiety is "new", to be more precise the label is "new". Some would argue that social anxiety is simply what is experienced by those that are introverted when in situations were society forces extroversion upon them.
Who says that you have to like going to dinner parties or being a socialite? Who says for that matter that you even need to like other people at all?
If you're OK with who you are and how you are then that's fine. If you don't really have a choice and you have to play along with society then therapy is a good starting point - you may not become the "life of the party" figure but at least you will be able to play their game and feel OK about it.
Research: Eisenburger, N & Lieberman, M (2004) Why rejection hurts: A common neural alarm system for physical and social pain. Trends in Cognitive Science Vol 8 (7): 294-300
Numerous languages characterize 'social pain', the feelings resulting from social estrangement, with words typically reserved for describing physical pain ('broken heart', 'broken bones') and perhaps for good reason. It has been suggested that, in mammalian species, the social-attachment system borrowed the computations of the pain system to prevent the potentially harmful consequences of social separation.
Mounting evidence from the animal lesion and human neuroimaging literatures suggests that physical and social pain overlap in their underlying neural circuitry and computational processes. We review evidence suggesting that the anterior cingulate cortex plays a key role in the physical-social pain overlap. We also suggest that the physical-social pain circuitry might share components of a broader neural alarm system.
Roth, D. et al (2001) Interpretations for anxiety symptoms in social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Vol 39 (2): 129-138
Examined the interpretations that people make for 4 visible symptoms typically associated with social anxiety (sweating, blushing, shaking, and shaky voice). Ss were 55 Canadians (mean age 35.51 yrs) with social phobia (SP; based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) criteria) and 54 Canadians without SP. Ss completed 1 of 2 versions of the Symptom Interpretation Scale (SIS; designed for this study), a scale asking Ss to rate the extent to which each of 8 interpretations is a likely explanation for the 4 anxiety symptoms (ASs). The Actor version asked Ss to judge how their own ASs are interpreted by others. The Observer version asked Ss to interpret ASs displayed by others. Two standard SP and anxiety scales were also completed by Ss as validation measures for the SIS. The results indicate that, when asked about ASs that they themselves exhibit, individuals with SPs are more likely to think that others interpret ASs as being indicative of intense anxiety or a psychiatric condition and are less likely to think that others interpret them as being indicative of a normal physical state. Data also suggests that those with SPs have a more flexible cognitive style when asked to interpret ASs exhibited by others than when asked about how others view their own.