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What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, usually begins in adolescence and is often most severe in the late teens and the 20s. In 25% of individuals it begins in early childhood. Social Anxiety is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today. 15 million people (7% of the U.S. population) has a social anxiety disorder. In public places, such as work, meetings, or shopping, people with social anxiety feel that everyone is watching, staring, and judging them (even though rationally they know this isn’t true). The socially anxious person can’t relax and enjoy themselves in public. In fact, they can never fully relax when other people are around. It always feels like others are evaluating them, being critical of them, or judging them in some way.

Unlike some other psychological problems, social anxiety is not well understood by the general public or by medical and mental health care professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers, and counselors. In fact, people with social anxiety are misdiagnosed almost 90% of the time. People with social phobia come to our anxiety clinic labeled as “schizophrenic”, “manic-depressive”, “clinically depressed”, “panic disordered”, and “personality disordered”, among other damaging misdiagnoses. Unfortunately, social anxiety does not come and go like some other physical and psychological problems. If you have it now, you’ll have it the rest of your life.

Symptoms among people with social anxiety disorder differ from individual to individual. Some people, for example, cannot write in public because they fear people are watching and their hand will shake. Others are very introverted and they find it too difficult to hold down a job. Still others have severe anxiety about eating or drinking in the presence of other people. Some people with social anxiety feel that a certain part of their body (such as the face or neck) are particularly “strange looking” and vulnerable to being stared at. Others experience a muscle spasm (usually around the neck and shoulders) and it becomes the center of their focus.
Current research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly successful in the treatment of social anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral treatment provides the methods, techniques, and strategies that come together to lessen the anxiety and make the world a much more enjoyable place for those who have social anxiety disorder.