Many people are fearful, anxious or phobic about something — a dark room, a fury cat, being on top of a tall building, or being in a small, cramped room. These fears or phobias may be exaggerated or irrational yet they cause so much distraction and distress.
In the long list of fears known to man, perhaps one of the most difficult to bear is the condition called social anxiety disorder. This disorder refers to the constant fear of being criticized by other people. People who have this problem are so self-conscious to the point that they feel that everyone around them is looking at them. In the process, socially anxious people become afraid of the world around them.
According to National Institute of Mental Health, “…social phobia is characterized by overwhelming anxiety in everyday social situations. It can be any type of situation—such as fear of speaking in formal or informal situations.”
Anxiety in social situations is not felt by shy, insecure people alone. Famous people like the singer Donny Osmond (the brother of Marie Osmond) also had social anxiety. In a very intimate interview, Donny Osmond revealed that, for years, he struggled with stage freight and would experience anxiety panic attacks right before a public performance.
Another famous person diagnosed with social anxiety disorder is singer-actress Barbara Streisand, who, in 1967, became so anxious that she forgot the lyrics of song in front of a large crowd. She was so embarrassed that she stayed away from performing in public for a long time after that moment of “song amnesia.”
The great actor Laurence Olivier who stunned audiences with his theatrical genius also struggled with social phobia for five years just when he was at the peak of his career.
Social anxiety disorder is not so easy to spot in a person. A person with so much insecurity and anxiety in being in the middle of a social occasion can still hide his predicament. Even with all the anxiety, that person can still act witty and gregarious.
But there are some people who literally freeze whenever they face a crowd or even a small number of people. Their excessive self-consciousness somehow paralyzes them, making them unable to function well in social circles. At first glance, people with social anxiety disorder may exhibit chronic fear, sweating, trembling, stammering, and blushing whenever they stand in front of people. They are also easily embarrassed or humiliated by even the slightest hint of being at the center of attention.
Social phobia affects more than five million Americans and is now the third most common disorder after depression and alcoholism. It affects all gender and ages but usually starts in childhood or early adolescence. It is often accompanied by depression and some have fallen into the trap of substance abuse in the hope that drugs would help them cope with their anxieties. They feel distress whenever they have this following situations:
Being at the center of attention; or
Being “out of place.”
One of the most common treatments for social anxiety disorder is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. Medication such as antidepressant prescriptions are used conjunction with the said therapy. Social anxiety, as well as other forms of anxiety, can be successfully treated today if a patient works with a qualified therapist or doctor. A physician can determine whether the symptoms that alarm you are due to anxiety disorder, or if these are symptoms of another medical condition. As they say, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Commitment and determination to face one’s fears will surely lead to freedom, confidence, and a better appreciation for people and life itself.