It would be very difficult to adequately describe what social anxiety disorder is, in the context of one sentence, one page, or even several pages. In my case, SA is a lifetime condition, a way of life, actually. As with many illnesses, it is hard to convey to others the true nature of this condition.
The official definition goes something like this:
Social anxiety is an intense fear of being watched, judged, or evaluated negatively by others in social situations. Many sufferers experience life-long feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy around other people.
Thats the official definition, but with SA, you almost need to experience it first hand to have a real appreciation for how this condition can completely incapacitate an otherwise good person. How it steals your life away slowly and leaves you feeling alone, worthless, unworthy of friendship or any sort of human closeness – including romance. How it can completely shut down your life, your plans, and your dreams. But, most notably, how it can take an otherwise normal person and sentence them to a life of fear, anxiety and depression.
SA is often dismissed as shyness and downplayed as being much less serious than it actually is. As with most mental illnesses, much of this is due to lack of education. Sufferers are often told to shake it off and get on with things. They are told to be fortunate that they dont have a real disease. They are considered to be of weak moral fiber. Is it any wonder that most are reluctant to confide in anyone, or to seek professional help?
SA destroys entire lives – preventing people from reaching their potential in many areas. Sufferers are often forced to settle for lives of mediocrity. Low paying, low profile careers – or unemployment, educations prematurely ended, and a poor or non-existent social/romantic life. Many never progress in the usual way – school, career, marriage, family etc¦ and can find themselves in limbo for years, afraid to take the next step – or any step for that matter
Between 3 and 7 percent of the population are thought to have SA. Given the small number of people who discover their illness and seek help, one can assume that there are literally hundreds of millions suffering in silence. It seems that many of us are very good at hiding our true selves.
Social anxiety is generally treated with medication or a technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of both.
The most popular medication prescribed today is a class known as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). They essentially allow more of the chemical, serotonin to hang around the synapse longer. Lack of serotonin is thought to increase anxiety. Brand names include such medication as Paxil and Zoloft.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is most often administered by a psychologist in either a one-on-one, or a group therapy session. The patient is made to recognize distorted thought patterns and associations. They are made to see how some events can trigger automatic, negative thoughts. It makes them look at how they react to unpleasant situations in their lives and then tries to replace the distorted thoughts with more realistic, positive thoughts.