Social Phobia is as old as Hippocrates, and yet it’s taken until only
recently for the medical profession to fully recognize Social Anxiety Disorder as a serious, and
disabling condition that renders millions of people incapable of what many others take for granted every day –
namely interacting with others in society.
The Greek philosopher Hippocrates is thought to be the first to describe the symptoms of
Social Phobia when writing in 400BC of the person who “through bashfulness” will “dare not come in company” and who
“thinks every man observes him.” Fast forward to 2010, and this one bashful person has become millions of people,
men and women, the world over who are believed to have social anxiety disorder. Indeed, in the United States, it is
said to be the third most common psychological complaint affecting some 15 million of its citizens.
Yet it’s not just Hippocrates who has written on the subject, for Charles Darwin did so in
the late 19th century, followed by psychologists in the 1930s. But it wasn’t until the 60s that Social Phobia was
given stand alone status from other anxiety
disorders and had its first official entry as a separate entity in the third edition of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. And it is only since
1985 that real attention has been focused on the condition by the medical profession, culminating in the release of
Paroxetine in the 1990s as the first US-approved drug to treat social anxiety disorder.But what is Social Phobia? Generally, it is when a person finds it extremely difficult and uncomfortable
being in public places or social situations. Work, job interviews, meetings, shopping, bars, clubs, and even being
around family can all leave the person with a social anxiety disorder feeling like they are continually being
watched, or stared at, or judged which leaves them feeling highly anxious. It is the height of self-consciousness.
This person simply can’t relax or enjoy themselves in public. The only place they feel properly comfortable is
behind the closed door at home.
Social anxiety disorder is the person in the shopping queue who feels everyone is looking at
them. It’s the person at home too scared to make a simple phone call to the gas company to report a fault, or the
student about to start college for the first time who dreads having to introduce themselves to the rest of the
class. It’s the woman at work who would like to go to the office party but is too nervous about mingling with
people she hardly knows, and it’s the man on the street struggling to get to the bus stop for fear of all eyes
being on him, and possibly having to make chit-chat with a stranger.
It is people with Social Phobia who are often seen as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn,
inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested. The irony is, people with social phobia know they are
being irrational, they just can’t stop the feeling. And because they can’t stop feeling that way, people with
social anxiety disorder always look to avoid social situations, or mix with other people. But people with this
disorder want desperately to be seen as “normal” socially. They want to make friends, and want to be involved, and
feel part of, and enjoy social interaction. They just can’t.
A person suffering from Social Phobia will experience significant emotional distress when
being introduced to other people, or being teased or criticized, or if made the center of attention, or if being
watched doing something. Making small talk with strangers or at parties or work is difficult, and being faced with
having to speak in front of others is a total horror scenario, as is dealing with people in authority who the
socially anxious will feel is somehow “important” thus putting them ill at ease. In fact any social situation
involving other people will put the person suffering from Social Phobia in a state of unease that leaves them
feeling helpless, anxious, and incapable of coping with the intense fear.
The effects of social anxiety disorder can cause the affected to experience trembling, a dry
throat and mouth, bring on a racing heart, and blushing, making it hard to swallow, and induce muscle twitches,
along with the feeling of excessive fear. It is the fact that the intense anxiety is constant when in these social
situations that is the most common, and excruciating feature for the socially anxious.
And the worst thing of all is, unlike other physical or psychological problems, Social Phobia
doesn’t go away. It is there every day, day after day...
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