What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a characterized by extreme anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in social interactions or situations where one can be observed by other people.  Situations that are common sources of anxiety include public speaking, initiating conversations, eating in public, being assertive, interacting with authority figures, and being late or getting lost.  For some people, different factors can make social situations more or less anxiety producing, such as whether it is a formal (vs casual) interaction, whether they have to interact with older (vs younger) people, and whether they know some (or none) of the people who are observing them.  SAD is not just “shyness,” but is a debilitating anxiety disorder that can interfere with one’s ability to function in work or social situations.  Although many people realize the fear is out of proportion to the nature of the situation, this knowledge does not reduce the anxiety.


What are the signs/symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

                            • Preoccupying fears of being negatively evaluated or judged by other people
                            • Fear that you might be embarrassed or humiliated
                            • Physical symptoms of anxiety in social situations, which can include racing heart, blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, lightheadedness, feelings of detachment, and fear of losing control
                            • Fear that others notice signs of anxiety (e.g., that others might notice you flushing/blushing, sweating, or stammering)
                            • Social situations are avoided or endured with a lot of anxiety
            Take the Social Anxiety Disorder screening here

What treatments are available for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Psychotherapy - The treatment of choice for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In general, CBT helps individual reduce anxiety associated with anticipating and interacting in social situations.  CBT teaches individuals to observe and change unhelpful thoughts they have in response to social situations and modify their focus of attention, as individuals with SAD often direct most of their attention inward, which increases self-conscious feelings.  CBT also helps individuals practice new ways of behaving while being in social situations, and treatment will often include some social skills training to increase mastery.

Medication - Doctors also may prescribe medication to help treat SAD, sometimes alone or in combination with psychotherapy.  Typically, they will prescribe a medication that is in the “antidepressant” class of medications. Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they also are helpful for anxiety disorders. Sometimes, individuals prefer medication because it takes less time and effort than therapy.  The downside to medication is that they may take a few weeks to start working and some individuals may experience side effects.   


Want to learn more about Social Anxiety Disorder?

Contact us to hear more about current studies we are conducting at: anxietystudy@partners.org or 1-866-44-WORRY

Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder

Visit the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website: http://www.abct.org/Information/?m=mInformation&fa=fs_SHYNESS

National Institute of Mental Health website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder/index.shtml

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