What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by a strong and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which humiliation or embarrassment may occur1. It affects about 15 million adults across America3, of whom experience fears that are much stronger then the feelings that most people have in similar situations.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Situations that may cause fear or acute stress for people with SAD include:
- Starting or keeping up conversations with unfamiliar people.
- Being the center of attention
- Speaking to authority figures
- Speaking in public
- Performing on stage
- Answering questions in a meeting or a class
- Eating or drinking in public
- Writing while someone watches
- Using public restrooms
- Making phone calls
- Attending parties
- Going on dates
Exposure to these types of social situations will almost always trigger extreme anxiety or nervousness and may lead to a predisposed panic attack1. As a result, feared social or performance situations are avoided. These fears interfere with daily life and cause disruptions in occupational/academic functioning, relationships, and social activities.
Social Anxiety Disorder can be treated with medications and psychotherapy and there is some evidence that it may respond best to simultaneous treatment with both. With respect to psychotherapy, the approach with the best evidence supporting its use in anxiety disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Involves learning the connections between one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and using this knowledge to combat the patterns that underlie ones anxiety.
- ABCtracker™: The ABCTracker™, a CBT-based self-help program, was created by psychiatrists and psychologists at UCLA who specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders and is designed to take the information you provide it about yourself to create a personalized treatment program that targets your specific symptoms.
Medications for Social Anxiety Disorder
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): Frequently used medication for SAD, common SSRIs include fluoxetime (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). These medications strengthen the signal between serotonin and certain neurons, resulting in a reduction of anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines: Effective medication for anxiety, common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax). These medications are not as widely used as they once were because unlike SSRIs, they have the potential to cause addiction and potentially dangerous withdrawal syndromes if they are abruptly stopped after being taken for a prolonged period of time.