Just prior to May, which is Mental Health Month, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) released a survey about social anxiety disorder. It revealed that most of the people who have this disorder report feeling as if they are alone.
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is characterized by an intense fear of being humiliated, embarrassed, or negatively judged by others in social or performance situations. The condition causes people to avoid common everyday situations and even other people. It can interfere with daily routines and job performance. And it makes it very difficult to develop friendships and romantic partnerships. People with the disorder recognize that their fear is excessive and irrational, but they feel powerless to do anything about it.
Many of us feel shy or anxious in new social situations, but the feelings usually go away as we get more comfortable. People with social anxiety disorder, though, feel persistent distress that impairs their ability to establish and maintain personal and professional relationships. The 15 million American adults who have the disorder often literally feel sick from fear in seemingly non-threatening situations, such as ordering food in a restaurant or making a phone call. They may experience physical symptoms, too, including blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, or headaches. The disorder typically starts around age 12 or 13, but many people report having anxiety earlier in their childhood.
Our survey points out that nearly 90 percent of people said their social anxiety disorder negatively affects their personal relationships, and 75 percent said the disorder affects their ability to carry out normal daily activities. One troubling finding is that 36 percent of those surveyed report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help, even though the disorder is treatable.
The survey also revealed the following about those suffering from social anxiety disorder:
- Fifty-five percent said they had no close friends.
- Sixty-six percent reported having misunderstandings with friends.
- More than 60 percent didn't keep in touch with friends or answer or return their phone calls.
- Thirty-five percent said having social anxiety disorder made them avoid intimacy.
- Twenty-four percent reported that the disorder resulted in their significant other not respecting them.
Treatment is available. Like all anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder is real, serious, and treatable. Among the successful treatments is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, which helps people get a sense of control over their lives. Medications may also be effective; sometimes a combination of CBT and medication is prescribed. Find out more about treatment options, as well as tips to help you choose a therapist.