The Truth About Social Anxiety Disorder

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder is the third most common mental illness in the world and affects about a third of the global population. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is also known as Social Phobia, and it is characterized by reoccurring intense emotional distress over social interactions. Someone with a Social Anxiety Disorder will experience extreme feelings of self-consciousness and will struggle to talk to other people, meet new friends, and interact confidently at social events.

Even though someone with a severe Social Disorder may realise that their concerns and worries are irrational or even illogical, they will still feel powerless and overwhelmed by their social fears. Within the Social Anxiety Disorder spectrum, there are three prominent types of social phobias that can manifest.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

The Avoidant Personality Disorder (sometimes referred to as Social Awkwardness Disorder) falls under the Social Anxiety Disorder umbrella. This type of Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive fear of and sensitivity to negative criticism and rejection. Someone with this specific type of Social Anxiety Disorder will consistently feel inadequate and will prefer to live life in isolation as a result of the social inhibitions they feel.

High-Functioning Social Anxiety

Sometimes people hide their social anxiety and mimic or act in a way that appears to be confident whilst internally suffering in silence. Someone with High-Functioning Social Anxiety may accomplish tasks successfully and appear to function positively at social events, but afterwards they will feel completely drained and exhausted. From an internal perspective, people with High-Functioning Social Anxiety are just as internally impaired and emotionally upset by social interactions as someone with an externally apparent Social Anxiety Disorder. While High-Functioning Anxiety is not considered an official diagnosis, it is a common expression of Social Anxiety that is just as isolating and upsetting.

Severe Social Anxiety

Severe or Acute Social Anxiety is when a Social Anxiety Disorder is so predominant that it completely impairs someone’s ability to accomplish tasks or interact with others in even the most basic form. Severe Social Anxiety is completely crippling and debilitating, and someone with extreme Social Anxiety might struggle with effectively navigating school, career, and relationships.

What causes anxiety to hit out of nowhere?

If you struggle with anxiety, then chances are you have at some point asked yourself: “Why am I anxious for no reason?” The simple answer is that you are not anxious for no reason. There is always a reason behind anxiety. If you are not yet able to identify the source of your anxiety, then there is a strong possibility that the root of your anxiety is lurking in your subconscious. Without processing through the origin of your anxiety, your anxiety can feel unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Anxiety is the perfect storm that forms when stress, brain chemistry, and environmental factors collide. Fortunately, it is possible for the storm of anxiety to still, the clouds to clear, and for you to find permanent healing and recovery from your social anxiety. But before we can begin to unpack how to heal from your social anxiety once and for all, it’s important to understand how anxiety is triggered.

Understanding Anxiety Triggers

If you experience anxiety even when there seems to be nothing happening that should cause alarm, then it may seem logical to conclude that anxiety is simply just part of your personality. This is one of the myths about Social Anxiety Disorder, and it is not accurate. Social Anxiety Disorder is a mental illness, and it is treatable and curable.

The truth is that all forms of Anxiety have triggers. The trigger need not be a person, a situation, or an event. Some of the most powerful anxiety triggers come from unseen and unheard sources such as thoughts, certain brainwave patterns, and even certain scents or smells.

Because so many people are genuinely unable to correctly identify the thoughts, situations, and habit patterns that provoke an anxious response, people surmise that they are anxious for no reason. They assume that there is something wrong with them when in reality it is far more likely that something wrong has happened to them.

Anxiety is most often the by-product of trauma, and it is estimated that over 70% of people in the world have been exposed to some form of trauma. There is an endless list of traumatic experiences that can lead to anxiety such as Insecure Attachment Style, abuse, medical trauma, natural disasters, bullying, unhealthy relationships, chronic stress, and other social factors. Trauma changes the way that the brain processes information, specifically fear. When someone’s mental ability to appropriately rationalize fear has been altered, that person will develop anxiety and live in a constant state of fight or flight.

Trauma rewires the way the brain’s limbic system works and as a result compromises the mind’s ability to process, regulate, and even accurately identify fear. Unprocessed trauma will often fester in the unconscious where it elicits anxiety every time it is triggered, and in fight or flight state, nearly anything can be a trigger. The solution to curing anxiety is not in the avoidance of the triggers, but in the resolution of the root cause of the anxiety. Fortunately, the mind is reprogrammable, and healing from anxiety once and for all is completely possible.

Types of Social Anxiety Triggers

People tend to assume that a trigger free life with work-life balance and a healthy lifestyle will bring inner peace to the anxiety they feel. It is actually the other way around: inner peace will bring balance and wellness to your life and as a result, triggers will be neutralized. Triggers are nothing more than a perceived fear, and once a perceived fear is proven to be a false fear it’s impossible for the trigger to exist.

It is an absolute illusion to think that balance in our external reality should cause our inner world to relax. Because triggers are inspired by and manifested from the unconscious, the conscious world is powerless to resolve the triggers. Triggers are often highly specific and unique to each individual, but some of the most common triggers of anxiety can include:

  • Tiredness or exhaustion
  • Stress
  • Demanding life schedule
  • Working long hours
  • Homework, tests, exams, etc.
  • Technology
  • Flying, airports, transportation etc.
  • Financial problems
  • Grief
  • Major life changes such as divorce, moving, etc.
  • Loneliness / isolation
  • Family interactions
  • Relationships
  • Loud noises
  • Natural disasters such as storms
  • Current events such as elections or Pandemics

As you may notice, while the list of triggers that can arouse anxiety could be endless, most triggers point to a single categorical concern: Fear of the assumed danger in the unknown or uncontrollable.

In the realm of speculatory fear anything seems possible, but in the realm of reality, the truth is that the majority of all fears are never accurate or realised. This is why someone with anxiety might react to a situation in a way that might seem completely out of proportion to someone who does not have anxiety.

The fear an anxious person feels when provoked by a trigger is very real. The thing, person, situation, or idea that they are anxious about is likely not real, but it may initially be perceived to be real. Once a perceived fear is proven to be a false fear, the fear will cease to exist.

While there are times when it is helpful and necessary to take a step back and retreat into a trigger free space to compose oneself, avoiding triggers will not solve the problem of Social Anxiety. The best way to completely cure yourself from Social Anxiety involves addressing the root cause.

What is it like to have Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?

It is common for many of us to feel a certain amount of shyness in certain social encounters, but Social Anxiety Disorder is so much more than just feeling shy or being an introvert. Having a Social Anxiety Disorder is like living in paralysing fear as if everything and everyone around you is unpredictable and dangerous.

To put it very simply, having a Social Anxiety Disorder feels lonely and terrifying. Anxiety feels like the final few seconds at the top of the first incline of a roller coaster right before you plummet down the first slope, and you never even wanted to get on the roller coaster in the first place.

Living life in this state can severely impact someone’s self-esteem, mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life. For those with Social Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety is centered around an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt and unworthiness. Because humans by nature are inclined for connection and community it becomes easy to imagine how social anxiety can be increasingly debilitating.

What is the real cause behind anxiety?

Anxiety is the reaction that occurs after the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for processing fear emotions such as fight or flight responses) experiences something traumatic. As a result, the brainwaves in the amygdala of someone with anxiety will be very hyperactive. The good news is that the brain has the incredible ability to be retrained, and it is completely possible for an anxiety sufferer’s brain to relearn how to properly regulate feelings of fear and anxiety.

The answer lies in Neuro Intervention, which is essentially hacking your unconscious to reprogram the fear response system. (And in case you are reading this and struggle with anxiety, please know that Neuro Intervention is not scary or dangerous.) After a brain experiences damage of any kind, for example after a bad accident or after a stroke, the brain adapts by bypassing the damaged response sensors and creating new pathways for information to be processed. This is how people are able to learn to walk and talk even after experiencing severe brain damage, and Neuro Intervention is a treatment based on this science.

Neuro Intervention is simply the process of learning new ways to process information. Imagine a train that needs to get from point A to point B, but something happens, and part of the railroad tracks are broken. As a result, the train will end up off course unless the tracks are diverted so that the train can be properly rerouted. The brain works the same way. People with Anxiety suffer because their brain is still figuring out how to reroute itself around the damage it experienced. Through Neuro Intervention, the brain can quickly and successfully learn how to divert the old neuro pathways so the brain switches from hyperactive to relaxed.

Social Anxiety Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, & Diagnosis

What causes Social Anxiety?

Social Anxiety Disorder is caused when the amygdala is overactive, but to take it a step further we must understand what causes the hyperactivity of the brainwaves in the amygdala in the first place. Social Anxiety Disorder is caused by a combination of biological and social environmental factors. Most scientific research has concluded that environmental factors are likely the most prominent player in the development of Social Anxiety Disorders. Adverse social experiences within your family or community structure, exposure to danger within relationships, negative experiences in competitive environments such as in work or in school, and even social media can all greatly increase someone’s risk in developing Social Anxiety Disorder.

What are the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety symptoms can be very extreme, and one of the reasons why recovering from a Social Anxiety Disorder can be so challenging is because anxiety begets anxiety. People with Social Anxiety Disorder will experience anxiety imagining the future anxiety they will experience. The mental feedback of self-doubt runs on what can feel like an endless loop. The mind echoes thoughts of self-doubt and fear over hypothetical humiliating scenarios, and people with a Social Anxiety Disorder will excessively worry over offending others. Symptoms vary from person to person, and someone can experience multiple symptoms at once.

The most common emotional and behavioural symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Excessive fear over talking to or interacting with others, particularly strangers
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Fear of being looked at or being the center of attention
  • Concern that your anxiety might be perceived by others
  • Over-analysis and replaying of your body language and dialogue following a social interaction
  • Expecting the worst reaction from people following a social interaction that may not have been pleasant
  • Canceling plans at the last minute
  • Overall social avoidance
  • Isolation

The most common Social Anxiety physical symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Blushing
  • Stuttering
  • Extreme nausea
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia before and after a social event
  • Digestive issues
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tense muscles and body aches
  • Nervous and repetitive body language such as touching hair, adjusting clothes, or experiencing general jitters.

How is Social Anxiety Disorder diagnosed?

There is a list of criteria to determine a diagnosis for Social Anxiety Disorder. Based on a description of your symptoms and a verbal examination of behavioural habit patterns, a doctor can easily determine a diagnosis if four factors are determined to be present:

  1. A continual fear of humiliation in social situations or paranoia of being embarrassed or being negatively judged.
  2. Anxious emotions or even panic attacks before interacting socially.
  3. A realization that your anxiety is irrational, yet an inability to manage or stop the anxiety from happening.
  4. Inability to accomplish day to day activities because of anxiety disrupting your ability to concentrate and be productive.

Because side effects of certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism and many pharmaceutical medications can closely mimic symptoms of anxiety, your healthcare provider may also administer a physical exam and order blood work to rule out other possibilities.

What is the best advice to overcome Social Anxiety?

People with social anxiety find it hard to cope in life because they struggle to form and maintain meaningful connections with friends, coworkers, and loved ones. Fortunately, Social Anxiety Disorder is not a permanent condition, and it is possible to permanently overcome your Social Anxiety Disorder.

Here are seven powerful strategies for overcoming your social anxiety.

Advocate for yourself.

Instead of obsessing over your anxiety, take mindful action and research. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health issues globally, so there is extensive amounts of knowledge and scientific studies that have been done which can help you better understand what you are experiencing. Know that you’re not alone, and treatment options are available.

Be kind to yourself.

Let’s set the record straight. To be human is to be slightly awkward. The truth is that we are all a little self-conscious from time to time, and pretty much everyone has made a social faux pas. You don’t have to be perfectly debonaire or charming to be worthy of a good time and meaningful relationships. Also, no one is perfectly suave and sophisticated, so take comfort in the fact that the ideal socialite does not exist. That’s why some of the most beloved characters on popular sitcoms on television are the most awkward ones. We’re all a little strange, and it is really ok.

Avoid avoidance.

Avoiding social situations will not help improve your social anxiety. The act of avoiding your fears will only cause the fears to grow. Avoiding anxiety is in itself an act of anxiety. Avoiding negative experiences is a negative experience, but accepting and embracing a negative experience can be a positive experience. One of the most beneficial ways you can overcome your Social Anxiety is to face your fear.

Find positive ways to socialise.

One of the safest ways to practice engaging socially is with acts of kindness. A 2015 study found that engaging in acts of kindness greatly reduced social anxiety and improved social confidence. Because social anxiety largely consists of fear of rejection or judgement, social interactions that involve acts of kindness are guaranteed to be a positive social experience. Earning approval through thoughtful actions on a regular basis can help you combat fear of social situations and improve your confidence. Not sure what act of kindness to try? Check out this list of 100 acts of kindness ideas.

Participate as an observer.

Go to a social event and focus on yourself. Don’t focus on anyone else or anything other than your immediate reality, and see if you can identify your triggers. This is an important step in helping you discover the root cause of your anxiety. For example, are you more afraid of your colleagues judging you when you order food at a restaurant for a work lunch, or were you more uncomfortable meeting someone new at the office happy hour? Or were you more embarrassed having to excuse yourself in the middle of a meeting to use the restroom? Whatever it is, see if you can pinpoint what exact moments triggered you.

Explore your triggers and identify your underlying fear.

Once you’ve identified exact examples of your triggers, see if you can find a theme or a connection. Triggers are the clues to what the root problem is, and being able to pinpoint exactly when and why you were most triggered will help you take the next step towards addressing the unconscious fear.

Hack your anxiety through Neuro Intervention.

One of the reasons why talk therapy is not always beneficial for people with Social Anxiety is because sometimes talking about and reliving anxious experiences only compounds the anxiety. If you could cognitively process through your social anxiety and fears, you likely would have done so by now. Mainstream treatment options such as talk therapy and medication often only address the symptoms of anxiety, not the underlying origin of the problem.

If you would like more information on how to overcome your social anxiety using our unique ‘Anxiety Hacking’ method, then we have a FREE video training for you to watch. Just click on the link below.

Or alternatively you can purchase the Serenity Method online course which teaches you the ‘Anxiety Hacking’ method.

What are the diagnostic features of social anxiety?

Before any proper treatment for any mental illness can be effectively administered, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis. The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and was created by a global task force of more than 160 of the brightest minds in the industry. The DSM-5 is predominantly used by mental health care specialists in the United States; however it is also used as an authoritative psychological reference tool globally.

The DSM-5 does not include any suggestions for treatment of any mental health disorders, but it provides mental health classification criteria and information regarding how to determine an accurate diagnosis.

A summary of the DSM-5 diagnosis for Social Anxiety is below:

  1. The possibility of negative judgement in social situations provokes fear or anxiety.
  2. The feelings of fear or anxiety appear consistently in most or all social interactions.
  3. The fear or anxiety seems “outsized” or excessive to the reality of the actual situation.
  4. The individual actively avoids social interactions or else experiences emotional distress during social situations.
  5. The Social Anxiety causes physical and mental distress such that the individual’s ability to interact and complete important daily functions or tasks is impaired.
  6. The Social Anxiety has consistently lasted for at least six months.
  7. The Social Anxiety is not the physiological ramifications of substance abuse, medicine, or other medical condition.

If you suspect that you may have a Social Anxiety Disorder, your healthcare provider will likely use the above criteria in your diagnosis.

What is the best way to deal with Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorders are treatable and permanent recovery through Anxiety Hacking is possible. For those seeking other helpful ways to cope with social anxiety here are three powerful strategies to work through your Social Anxiety.

Banish all thoughts of the “Spotlight Effect” – it’s simply not accurate.

The phenomena called the “Spotlight Effect” refers to the idea that people assume their flaws are painfully obvious, as if there is a spotlight illuminating their imperfections for all the world to see. In reality most people are too worried about how they are being perceived or else simply too distracted to notice all the nuances you might be insecure about.

The spotlight effect is faulting reasoning. It’s simply not probably. Everyone else is caught up in their own world of experiences and perceptions the same way that you are focusing on the information that is most significant to you. This means that you perceive, observe, and remember only the information that’s most important to you, and the same goes for everyone else.

Over past decades, many scientific studies have been done to prove that it is simply not possible for anyone to perceive you the way you imagine they might perceive you. For instance, the Journal of Anxiety Disorders published research that suggested that people are not evaluating each other nearly as much as people with Social Anxiety suspect.

So, there is no need to struggle with falling asleep at night because you are still cringing over remembering something that happened 10 years ago. The human brain simply cannot remember information that is not vital, so chances are most people don’t remember what happened or else they didn’t even notice your social blunder in the first place.

Establish a pre-socializing ritual – give yourself something to look forward to.

Create a unique pre-socializing grounding ritual before social events that both gives you something to look forward to whilst at the same time mentally prepares you for positive social interactions. For example, before a night out with friends or coworkers you might engage in a sequence of your favorite relaxation techniques such as the ideas listed below.

  • Work up a sweat. Exercising is an amazingly effective anxiety destroyer because it channels nervous energy into productive and positive action.
  • Take a relaxing shower or bath.
  • Watch a funny TV show that is sure to make you laugh. Laughter is the best medicine for combatting any and all anxiety.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Practice mindfulness through the help of a guided meditation.
  • Try some breathing exercises specifically for anxiety.
  • Turn on your favorite mood-boosting music and drink a cup of relaxing herbal tea such as kava-kava tea or chamomile tea which is effective for soothing nerves.

Limit stimulating substances – it will only make your social anxiety worse.

Consuming too much alcohol can exacerbate anxiety and leave you feeling even worse. The same rule applies to caffeine, sugar, and nicotine as all three of those substances can cause your blood sugar to spike and your heart to race.

If you use alcohol or nicotine on a regular basis to manage your Social Anxiety, you could develop an unhealthy habit pattern. Becoming overly reliant on substances to cope with social anxiety could lead to addiction and a slew of other physical health problems such as liver damage, lung cancer, obesity, and heart disease.

Using substances to avoid feelings of anxiety is a subtle form of avoidance and will ultimately not help you become better at socializing effectively. Avoiding anxiety is in itself an act of anxiety, which means that deciding to face and experience your fears short circuits the endless loop of anxiety. It can be scary to be vulnerable, but by giving yourself permission to be yourself, you are giving others the opportunity to accept you for who you really are.

Conclusion – The Bottom Line

Social Anxiety Disorder is the third most common mental illness in the world and affects about a third of the global population. Having a Social Anxiety Disorder can feel terrifying and lonely, and those with a crippling Social Anxiety Disorder may be completely impaired to the point that they are unable to perform day to day tasks. Because so many people are genuinely unable to correctly identify the triggers that provoke an anxious response, people with Social Anxiety may feel as though they are anxious for no reason.

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a continual fear of humiliation in social situations or paranoia of being embarrassed or being negatively judged, intense emotional distress before a social event, powerlessness to manage or stop the anxiety, and an inability to accomplish day to day activities. If these four factors are present, a doctor can easily diagnose an individual following a verbal examination, although a physical exam and bloodwork may be done to rule out other possibilities.

Anxiety is most often the by-product of trauma, and it is estimated that over 70% of people in the world have been exposed to some form of trauma. Trauma changes the way that the brain processes information, specifically fear. Trauma rewires the way the brain’s limbic system works, and as a result, compromises the mind’s ability to process, regulate, and even accurately identify fear. Until the trauma has been processed, the mind cannot reprogram itself. The solution to curing anxiety is not in the avoidance of the triggers, but in the resolution of the trauma that causes the anxiety.

Social Anxiety is completely curable, and while there are many mainstream treatment options and self-help methods for coping with social anxiety, the best option is to hack the minds unconscious and reprogram thinking patterns through Neuro Intervention.

If you would like to more information on how to combat and overcome your anxiety using our unique ‘Anxiety Hacking’ method, then we have a FREE video training for you to watch. Just click on the link below.

FAQ’s

What does SAD stand for?

Social Anxiety Disorder

Is Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) treatable?

Yes, SAD is absolutely treatable. The best treatment option is to tackle the issue where it initially manifests in other words at the unconscious level and that’s exactly what ‘Anxiety Hacking’ is designed to do. To find out more about ‘Anxiety Hacking’ click here.

Is SAD curable or will I have this forever?

SAD is characterized as a long-term illness, but it is very treatable. With the correct treatment full anxiety recovery is 100% achievable.

What is DSM-5?

The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and was created by a global task force of more than 160 of the brightest minds in the industry. The DSM-5 provides mental health classification criteria and information regarding how to determine an accurate diagnosis.

How do I know if my physical ailment (chest tightness, stomach pains, headaches, etc.) is anxiety based or if it is another medical issue?

Anxiety based chest pain is characterized by a sharp shooting pain central to the chest cavity or else a persistent general chest aching. Unusual twitching or spasms may accompany the discomfort, and you may experience difficulty breathing. Heart attack or lung disease cause an increase in heart rate and pain that radiates to other parts of your body beyond the chest, such as your arm or jaw. Heart attack signs also include fatigue, sweating, and confusion/loss of memory. Know the signs of a heart attack, and if you are exhibiting any of these signs, you should seek medical care urgently.

Should I tell my boss or coworkers I have a Social Anxiety Disorder?

People in the U.K., the United States, and most other countries are not legally obligated to mention any medical condition, mental or otherwise. There are pros and cons to opening up to your manager and colleagues about your personal struggles. Ultimately, the decision to share or not share is up to you, but if you decide to disclose your illness, it may be helpful to focus on how your anxiety may impact your ability to perform your job. If you feel that you would benefit from receiving accommodation from your employer, then you may consider requesting support from your company’s HR department. Learn more

My friend/partner/family member just confided in me that they have severe Social Anxiety. How should I talk with them? What should I say/not say?

Do not minimise or trivialise what they are feeling. It will only prevent them from confiding in you again. Take them seriously, but do not overreact. Often, someone with anxiety will express emotions that may seem excessive. Remain calm and focus on listening. Sometimes people coping with anxiety will calm down simply after talking about the distressing matter with someone. You may be tempted to help out and take on an anxious person’s problem as your own, but it is important that you do not take control.

Above all, do not judge them or say or do anything that would make them feel stigmatized. Chances are that they already feel completely helpless. Do not imply that there is something wrong with them, because it is far more likely that something wrong happened to them. People with Social Anxiety simply need help, just like everyone needs help sometimes. The best thing you can do to support your friend/family member/partner is to be a non-judgemental sounding board for them and remind them that treatment options exist to help them.

It is not your responsibility to solve everyone else’s problems, but it is good to offer support by helping others help themselves whenever possible.

How do they diagnose SAD? Are there any lab tests or brain scans involved in the diagnosis?

Brain scans are not typically needed to diagnose SAD. Because underlying physical health problems such as Hypothyroidism, Sleep Apnea, Systemic Lupus, or Schizophrenia can cause anxiety symptoms, it is not uncommon for blood work to be done to rule out these possibilities. Typically, a doctor can diagnose a patient after a brief verbal examination, and the doctor may ask about any medications being taken as certain medications can cause symptoms of anxiety.

Do I have a Social Anxiety Disorder?

If you have been experiencing any of the SAD criteria mentioned above consistently for at least six months, have a history of Social Anxiety Disorder, or suspect that you may have some form of chronic social phobia, you may have Social Anxiety Disorder and should take some action ASAP.

Is Social Anxiety hereditary?

While studies have been done that suggest social anxiety is a learnt behaviour there is not sufficient research to conclude that social anxiety can be genetically inherited.