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Millions of people around the world suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (also known as Social Phobia) and related conditions. According to research carried out in the United States, it is the third most common psychiatric disorder after depression and alcoholism.
Despite being the cause of much impairment and suffering, it is often under-recognised and under-treated, even though virtually everyone knows what it is like to feel shy or lacking in social confidence, often to an extent that can limit opportunities and happiness.
Because social anxiety issues are still relatively unknown amongst the wider public, most aren't even aware that the thing which can have such a huge impact on their lives has a name.
However, perhaps because by it's very nature sufferers of Social Anxiety are reluctant to talk about their problems or seek help, the condition is still not widely known amongst the general public, and was only recognized as a disorder in it's own right as recently as 1980.
What is Social Anxiety? In it's simplest terms, social anxiety or 'SA' is a fear of people: of being around, having to interact with, being watched, criticized or judged negatively by, other human beings.
For sufferers of SA, everyday tasks which most people take for granted - working, socialising, shopping, speaking on the telephone, can be a draining ordeal marked by ongoing feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness.
Sufferers typically experience feelings of dread and nervousness in the build up to the feared situation, and analyse or 'replay' the situation in their mind when it's over, reflecting how they could have 'performed' better.
Sufferers may also experience physical symptoms such as trembling, blushing or sweating.
There are two forms of SA, performance social anxiety where these feelings only occur in a few specific situations such as public speaking, eating in public or dealing with authority figures, and generalized social anxiety, which affects most, if not all areas of the sufferers life. The latter is the most common type, affecting around 70% of SA sufferers.
So how can you tell if you may be suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder? According to the National Phobics’ Society, if you can answer yes to most of the following questions it is likely that you are affected by that condition. During the past 6 months:
So what is the treatment for sufferers of Social Anxiety? It's difficult to prevent social anxiety disorder, but it can be treated successfully with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and/or medication.
CBT is a way of talking about how you think about yourself, the world and other people and how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.
CBT can help you to change how you think ("Cognitive") and what you do ("Behaviour)". These changes can help you to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking treatments, it focuses on the "here and now" problems and difficulties. Instead of focussing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind now.
For advice and support if you feel you may know someone suffering with Social Anxiety, contact the National Phobics Society on 0870 122 2325 or check out their website: www.phobics-society.org.uk
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