Social anxiety disorder also known as social phobia is a mental disorder in which a person has a fear of one or more specific social situations. The person thinks that other people will be examining him/her and evaluate his actions negatively or he/she may act in an embarrassing or humiliating manner in front of others that would let others make fun of him/her. The fear of public speaking is one of the prominent forms of social phobia.
Subtypes of Social Anxiety Disorder
According to the DSM, there are two subtypes of social anxiety disorder i.e; one is centred on performance situations in which the person has a fear of performing in front of others as he/she thinks that others may evaluate his or her actions negatively or he/she do any action that becomes a matter of embarrassment or humiliation for him/her.
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The second is centred on a non-performance situation, in this people fear that others are constantly evaluating their actions in a negative manner. For example: When eating in public places and at that time if some random person passes a smile the individual may interpret that something is wrong with their way of eating or something the random person is finding funny and this leads to great anxiety and distress in the individual.
Prevalence, Age of Onset, and Gender Differences
According to a study about 12% of people are likely to suffer from a social anxiety disorder at some point in their life. It has been found that social anxiety disorder is more common in females than males. This disorder begins by the age of adolescence or early adulthood. About 2/3rd of the people with social anxiety disorder are likely to suffer from other forms of anxiety disorder at some point in their life and about 50% of people are likely to experience depression at some point in their lives.
Research shows that about 1/3rd of the individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder are also alcohol abusers, which is mostly done in order to reduce their anxiety and distress and help them to face the situations more effectively which create fear in them. People with this disorder have lower employability rates and lower socioeconomic status in society.
It has been found that only 1/3rd of the people with this disorder recover in a period of 12 years. According to a report, the chances of social anxiety disorder in undergraduate students is 7.8% whereas in the case of school students, it is 12.8%. In research conducted by Nair and his colleagues, it was found that in adolescents in rural areas, the prevalence of social anxiety disorder is about 4.8%.
The origin of social anxiety disorder often takes place from simple instances consisting of simple or vicarious conditioning. Socially traumatic events can cause the onset of the disorder. According to one study, traumatic events are often linked to an individual’s current image of themselves in social situations. However, not every individual who experiences traumatic or various social events develops social anxiety disorder but individual differences exist, how effectively one has coped with the traumatic experiences also plays an important role.
Context of Evolution
Social fear and phobias are fear from individuals of one’s own species. And this fear and phobia can be a result of dominance hierarchies. This dominance hierarchies develop on the basis of aggressive encounters between individuals of the same species in which the defeated one becomes fearful and submissive but does not attempt to escape from the situation. The same type of characteristics is found in people suffering from social anxiety disorder where they suffer and fear social situations but do not try to escape or run away from those situations, unlike animal phobia in which there is a fight-and-fight response happening.
Unpredictable and Uncontrollable Situations
Uncontrollable and unpredictable life events can also cause the onset of social anxiety disorder in an individual. The Perception of something as uncontrollable and unpredictable can make an individual show submissive and unassertive characteristics and these are characteristics of a socially anxious person. Individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder has very little or no control over the events happening in his/her life. This also happens when a person is raised in an overprotective family.
There is a significant role of cognitive factors in the onset and maintenance of social phobia. People with social phobia think that people will reject them, make fun of them, criticize them, humiliate them and evaluate them negatively. And this creates a sense of vulnerability in them whenever they are around people who they perceive as a potential threat.
This schema of people makes the individual always worry about whether they are behaving the right way or they are not behaving in an awkward or unacceptable fashion in front of others. Second, a person with social anxiety disorder tends to make negative perceptions about the social environment which on the other hand contributes more to the development of social anxiety disorder.
Individuals who are behaviourally inhibited are easily distressed by unpredictable and unfamiliar stimuli are shy in nature are more likely to be fearful children at a young age which increases their risk of developing social anxiety disorder later stage of adolescence. “
Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies
Distorted cognition of an individual is one of the characteristics of social anxiety disorder. Various types of cognitive restructuring techniques are being added to the behavioural techniques which are now generating a new domain known as cognitive behavioral techniques. In this, the therapist tries to make his client recognize his/her negative automatic thoughts, and then the therapist tries to change the thinking process of his/her client through logical reanalysis.
Unlike specific phobias, the symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be treated and controlled by using certain types of medications. There are various types of antidepressants that are found to be effective in the treatment. In some studies, the effects of medications are similar to the effects of cognitive behavioural therapies.
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However, unlike the therapies that produce good results in a short period of time and the client keeps on improving even when the treatment is over the medicines take a longer time to show improvements in the patients. In various studies, it has been found that when an individual is given a treatment plan that consists of both therapies and medications the treatment plan is the most effective and shows much better results than individual interventions.
In conclusion, we can state that social anxiety disorder does affect a person’s life in different spheres, and reaching out for help may seem uncomfortable in the first place but understanding that it’s important for one’s own benefit is beneficial for a person’s wellbeing.