Nikita works in a well known IT firm. A competent employee with a degree in software engineering from a reputed institute, she made her way up the corporate ladder. She enjoyed her job until she got a promotion. It was a great position with great pay; she would lead a team and interact with overseas clients on their projects. Anyone would want it, even she looked forward to this day. But something else was started to happen. She would worry for days and even weeks before meeting a client. She hated to have meetings. Her heartbeat went higher when she had to meet new people, her hands would sweat. Lightheadedness set in and she would feel exhausted after meeting people. Like many other people, Nikita was silently and unknowingly suffering from social anxiety disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
According to Harvard Mental Health, 7% to 12% of all US citizens suffer unsuspectingly from SAD (social anxiety disorder). 95% of the affected do not realize it that they have a disorder and they must seek professional help. The condition almost goes unrecognized. According to a study by well known hospitals in India, more than 1 million patients are diagnosed every year with SAD. Sadly most cases go undetected. In a way, social anxiety disorder is an undetected epidemic and any of us can be affected.
The symptoms of SAD can develop since childhood. One must note that social anxiety disorder is not shyness or reluctance to social interaction. Shyness is short term and is a facet of human personality. Reluctance to social interaction is situational. SAD on the other hand is long term. Usually ten years or more pass before patients recognize that they do have a problem.
Here are some common symptoms of social anxiety disorder. However indications may vary from person to person. A person will possibly experience only some symptoms. First let us look at the physical symptoms:
- Quick heartbeat and rising pulse rate
- Tightness and tension in muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness to dizziness
- Diarrhoea and upset stomach
- Sweating, shaking
- Rigid or uncomfortable body posture
- Unclear voice, throat problems or sudden coughing
- Dry mouth
Other than physical indicators, the person will also have mental tensions like:
- Inability to think or decide clearly
- Avoid eye contact
- Avoid going outside and meet new people
- Avoid places where they have to interact with people, even if they are already acquainted
- Become self conscious while talking to people
- Constantly worrying about what others would think of him or her. Afraid of being judged.
- Self judging, anxious to do a job and finish it off as soon as possible
- Feeling embarrassed or awkward too often or easily
- Panic attacks
- Excessive fear and anticipation of doom
- Prolonged or chronic feeling of shyness
- Hesitation to have food outside
What is the cause of social anxiety disorder? Truly speaking, it is still a gray area for doctors. According to Harvard Mental Health we typically start developing the early signs during ten to nineteen years of age. You can get SAD from the environment you live in or from your family. Children get affected by social anxiety disorder easily if any of their parents are suffering from it. However, while one child gets affected the other ones may not.
Social Anxiety Disorder Cause and Treatment
Brain scans of people suffering from social anxiety disorder have shown an overactive amygdala. The amygdala is a bunch of neuron set deep in our brain. It is a part of the limbic system which especially works with emotions.
The amygdala is that part of our brain that tells us that there is an emergency. It informs us whether to take to fight or flight. It recognizes situations and conditions as fear and the body reacts accordingly.
An intense emotional response like fear from the amygdala can shut off other parts of the brain. That is why people are unable to think logically because they cannot access those other parts of the brain. Some people have taken to the extreme by removing the amygdala by brain surgery. However this is usually done to treat epilepsy or extreme aggressiveness. The downside to amygdala removal is that people can become ‘fearless’ as long term memories of fear recede.
The truth is SAD is treatable and it does not require any surgery or difficult lab tests. The first step in treating social anxiety disorder is to recognize that you are suffering from it. It is estimated that 95% of people would not be aware of it.
Consulting a qualified medical professional is the second step to alleviate SAD. The doctor would first determine that these symptoms are not caused by any medication or drugs. Then it gets diagnosed if you have SAD or some other phobia. Based on the diagnosis, the doctor may ask the patient to undergo counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other psychotherapies. In serious cases, the doctor may prescribe medicines for a period of time. According to studies SAD is completely treatable.
Social anxiety disorder can disrupt your life, career and marriage. Worse, the person is in physical and mental pain every day. If you know someone who might be suffering from SAD, do share this information. Being aware is the first step to healing.
Social Anxiety Disorder In Children
Sadly, social anxiety disorder gets undetected in children. It is usually dismissed as shyness or childhood tantrums. In kids, SAD can show up as crying , fear, outbursts and social withdrawal. They may feel extremely embarrassed and develop social phobia where they do not want to meet people or make friends. As children are unable to express their feeling as adults do, their situation becomes worse.
SAD symptoms in children can develop as fear of speaking in public, shortness of breath, moodiness, signs of depression and even bed wetting. They would not want to go to school, get easily terrified, and even refuse to use public restrooms. However with knowledge and awareness children can be protected from getting deeper into the disorder.
Do not make any child feel guilty. Do not shame them. Learn to discipline and correct them without insulting them. Unfortunately adults hurt feelings of children almost all the time. A wrong rebuke from you can set a long term effect in the kid’s amygdala. It would show as a lifetime of suffering and shame.
Let kids speak to you clearly. Do not scold them when they have opened their heart to you. A little patience and understanding from your side may save a life. Of course, consult a doctor so that the child does not carry his fears to his adulthood.
Disclaimer: Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your treating doctor. HalfSamosa does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by HalfSamosa are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, please see your physician.