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May 19 2022 11:47 AM ˚
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Social anxiety

Social anxiety is a chronic mental health condition that stems from the fear of being judged or scrutinized. (Photo: URevolution)
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Whether it’s with work or school, people can find public speaking or starting conversations with strangers difficult. It is a natural feeling, and nearly everyone experiences worry or shyness.  Most people overcome these feelings with time, but it may be more difficult for others.  Difficulty in overcoming worry and fear is commonly associated with a social anxiety disorder.اضافة اعلان

(Photo: Envato Elements)

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is a condition that is more severe than being shy or nervous in a social setting. It is completely normal to be nervous about big events that are not a common part of your life, such as presenting in front of a crowd. In these situations, you may feel your mouth go a little dry, your hands may become cold and clammy, or you might even start to feel butterflies in your stomach. Emotionally, you may feel a slight sense of dread, worry, and overall unease.

Now picture that same feeling, but with everyday social interactions, such as going to the grocery store, school, or even walking down the street. The emotions associated with social interactions may be even more extreme than nervousness. For those with social anxiety, it is a chronic mental health condition that stems from the fear of being judged or scrutinized. Ultimately, those with social anxiety often avoid certain social situations, disrupting daily life and affecting the ability to form relationships.

Causes and risk factors

Like most mental health issues, the exact cause of social anxiety is unclear. Several studies have been conducted using brain imaging and blood flow to determine the regions of the brain responsible for anxiety. Generally speaking, those with any form of anxiety may find increased blood flow to specific areas in the brain, including the brain stem, prefrontal cortex, and motor cortex.

Increased blood flow indicates more brain activity, and each region plays a role in the development of anxiety.

The brain stem is responsible for basic functions, such as breathing and heart rate. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our cognitive thought, and the motor cortex is responsible for muscle movement.

For those diagnosed with social anxiety, increased blood flow to the amygdala was found to be the most significant. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system that is responsible for behavioral and emotional responses. It is also an integral part of our fight-or-flight response and is active during fearful situations.

Many factors can influence the likelihood of developing social anxiety. In the case of all anxiety disorders, some people might have a significant genetic predisposition to developing social anxiety. Physical appearance may also play a role; those born with certain physical characteristics that deviate from beauty standards may cause that individual to be more self-conscious.

Some individuals have a natural proclivity to avoid new situations, which may be seen in early childhood development. Environmental factors may also play a role; it is believed that some anxious responses or behaviors can be learned through authority figures such as parents, or peer groups, such as friends. This may include the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as conflict avoidance, and may be worsened by major life changes.

Signs and symptoms of social anxiety

There are many symptoms of social anxiety that mirror common shyness or nervousness, which can make diagnosing more difficult. Typically, the onset of symptoms will occur around the age of 13 and can be divided into physical and psychological symptoms.

Physically, those with social anxiety may begin to blush, sweat, tremble, or feel nauseous when placed in a social setting. Cumulatively, this may result in increased heart rate and breathing, rigid body posture, little to no eye contact, or speaking in a soft or quiet voice.

Physiologically, the symptoms are far more subjective and even more difficult to spot. An individual with social anxiety will avoid social situations, have extreme or irrational worry, severely fear being judged or rejected, and have intense feelings of self-consciousness.

Social anxiety in Jordan

Data on social anxiety in Jordan is extremely limited. However, one study conducted in 2019 focused on assessing the level of social anxiety and gave important insights into factors that attribute to lower social anxiety. 

The study focused on university students in Shoubak and Maan and found that levels of social anxiety were considered to be relatively low. The researchers attributed these findings to the educational environment. They concluded that due to the low number of students, a more familial relationship had been formed between the administration and students.

Treating social anxiety

There is no cure for social anxiety, only ways to manage or reduce associated symptoms to cope with the condition. Conventional treatment may involve a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Recently, there has been growing interest in the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on healthier ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to specific situations.

Many research studies found that it can even affect positive changes in the brain structures involved in the processing and regulation of emotions. CBT may take a while to see significant positive changes, but it can be an effective long-term solution.

For short-term treatment, a psychiatrist may use medication to help manage some of the symptoms associated with social anxiety. Antidepressants are among the most widely used medications, mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Despite being an antidepressant, many studies have found that 50-80 percent of individuals with social anxiety respond well after taking an SSRI or SNRI for 8-12 weeks.

Because antidepressants need several weeks to see results, a psychiatrist may use anti-anxiety medications in severe cases. The most widely used anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines, which exert their effects quickly. Some of the most commonly used benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan).

There are also many exercises and lifestyle changes that can help with social anxiety. Adjusting one’s diet may have potential benefits. Caffeine may aggravate or trigger anxiety, whereas omega-3 fatty acids may improve overall mood and anxiety.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in nuts and fish but can also be taken as supplements. Additionally, many exercises may help, including breathing exercises, challenging negative thinking patterns, and practicing patience.

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