Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by acute and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which an individual is left open to possible scrutiny by others or feels “on display” in situations, fearing that he or she may do something that will be humiliating or embarrassing. It is the most common anxiety disorder and the third most common emotional disorder after depression and alcohol abuse. It is more than simply extreme shyness; in severe cases, individuals who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder will avoid social situations altogether, and this can have serious effects on both their personal and professional lives.
Social Anxiety Disorder can be treated with both prescription medication and psychotherapy. It is best if the two are used in conjunction with one another.
There are several different types of prescription medication indicated for Social Anxiety Disorder. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), benzodiazepines, beta blockers and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are all options, and each individual needs to talk with their doctor to find the specific medication that is right for them. SSRIs are most commonly used because they have fewer side effects in comparison with the other types of medication. MAOIs and benzodiazapines are highly effective in treating a wide range of social anxiety symptoms, but they can have side effects that require that those using these types of medications follow certain dietary restrictions and are under close observation of a medical professional. Beta blockers are suggested for those with specific physical panic symptoms.
While taking medication helps to alleviate symptoms of social anxiety, talk therapy is helpful in teaching those with social anxiety how to cope with their social avoidance and learn new ways of dealing with anxiety-provoking social situations. There are two basic types of therapy suggested for those with Social Anxiety Disorder:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that teaches individuals new ways of thinking about and coping with, in the case of Social Anxiety Disorder, social situations. The cognitive-behavioral therapist helps the patient learn how to confront the fear of embarrassment or being negatively judged by others in social situations, and patients learn how their thinking patterns worsen the symptoms of social anxiety.
Once an individual with social anxiety can recognize their negative thought patterns, they can change their thinking and lessen their reactions to social situations. One of the most effective techniques used in cognitive-behavioral therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder is exposure therapy, during which the person is exposed to anxiety-provoking situations repeatedly until they learn to identify and change behavior that ads to his or her anxiety.
Social skills training
Social skills training helps the individual with social anxiety learn to cope with specific social situations. The therapist and the patient rehearse situations in which the patient might experience anxiety. The therapist helps the patient learn how to make appropriate eye contact, talk louder and more slowly, ask for help, respond to requests and handle verbal criticism. They track their progress through journaling and practice the new behaviors both with the therapist and in real-life situations. By practicing what to say and how to say it, the patient feels more prepared and less anxious when confronted with social situations.
Both medication and therapeutic techniques should be performed with the help of trained medical and/or psychiatric professionals when treating Social Anxiety.