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Social phobia/social anxiety disorder

Social phobia or social anxiety disorder is the constant fear of being criticized or evaluated by other people. People who suffer from social phobia are excessively self-conscious to the point where they feel that everyone around them is looking at them and judging them harshly. They become nervous, anxious and afraid of the world around them. For those with social phobia, everyday social situations like parties can become highly intimidating ordeals.

The key to the problem is that people with social anxiety want to be liked. They want very much to be seen as witty, dynamic and sociable. They want to fit in. However their anxiety about not performing well in public is so strong that it tends to cripple their best efforts. They freeze when they meet new people, particularly if they want these people to like them, for instance because they feel attracted to them or because they look up to them. They are afraid that their anxiety will be noticeable and this fear causes the anxiety to grow and turn into a vicious cycle.

Social anxiety usually develops early and without adequate treatment can be a chronic, unrelenting torturous condition. However, with suitable care, it is possible to overcome social phobia altogether.

Social anxiety disorder is an illness that customarily runs a chronic course and is often associated with other psychiatric disorders. The duration of social anxiety disorder is frequently lifelong. Yet in these times, there is no need for it to be. Significant improvements in the quality of life are within the reach of nearly all sufferers.

From a neurobiological point of view, low levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotomin are commonly associated with social anxiety. Research shows that people with social phobia are five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in later life – Parkinson’s is caused by abnormally low levels of dopamine. From a pharmaceutical standpoint, drugs which boost levels of these neurotransmitters can provide very efficient treatment for social phobia.

As for psychological treatment, among the most effective are CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and CGBT (Cognitive Group Behavioural Therapy). In supportive environments, social phobics can learn to address their fears and can steadily overcome them. With the help of a therapist, they can develop strategies for coping and find a more constructive way of viewing their fears. The advantage of group therapy is that they can meet and interact with fellow sufferers, which will help them to realise that they are not facing their problems alone.

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