Social Anxiety Disorder

By Alison Buchalter Segal, Ph.D.

The high-tech society of today truly caters to the person who suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder. Living in the age of the Internet, email, text messaging, and caller ID, only makes it easier for a socially anxious person to avoid certain feared situations. The wonderful technology we have has made it possible for people to make a living, go shopping, use services, and have “relationships” without ever seeing or directly interacting with another person. Ultimately, living like this can be detrimental and deeply unsatisfying. Knowledgeable behavioral clinicians understand the struggles, discomfort, and dissatisfaction that Social Anxiety Disorder causes.   We hope that you will find comfort and motivation in the knowledge that this problem can improve.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
In the 1960’s when the idea of social phobia was first recognized, doctors considered it a very rare condition. Today, however, we know that social anxiety affects at least 1 in 10 people at some time during their lives. Social anxiety, or social phobia, is the distinct, persistent fear of one or more social situations in which you are afraid of being scrutinized by others or in which you fear that you will act in an embarrassing or humiliating way. Social Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed if you avoid these social situations or endure them only with intense discomfort. Social Anxiety Disorder can be either “Specific” or “Generalized.” You might have specific social anxiety if your discomfort is limited to one or two social situations such as speaking in front of a group or confronting someone in a position of authority. Generalized social anxiety is more pervasive in that your fear extends to almost all situations where other people are present.

Who is affected by Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder does not discriminate between gender or socio-economic class. It has been found in almost every culture studied, although its presentation and recognition vary among different societies. Social anxiety is widespread and debilitating if undiagnosed and untreated. Social anxiety typically originates in childhood or early adolescence, and is not something that most people can just “grow out of.” Too often, symptoms worsen over time to the point of interfering with relationships, education/career, and day-to-day activities.

What can be done?
Research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments in reducing the phobic avoidance associated with social anxiety. CBT is a proactive, relatively short-term mode of therapy. It is designed to help people challenge their unhealthy behaviors and maladaptive thoughts that lead to avoidance of social situations. A cognitive-behavioral psychologist acts like a coach or an educator who teaches you necessary skills in order to manage your anxiety and cope with your discomfort in social situations. CBT can be conducted individually or in a group. Group therapy for social anxiety has proven to be particularly effective, as it is a safe place to simulate “real life” social situations and to meet other people struggling with problems similar to yours.