Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder

Take back your life from Social Anxiety Disorder

I do not like public speaking. Not even a little. I much prefer talking individually or in a very small, well-known group. I tend to freeze, to lose track of what I am saying, and I feel others will misunderstand me. Would you be surprised if I told you I had a very successful three years as an Instructor, receiving several awards? No medications and no formal counseling, no magic tricks. First, let’s talk about social anxiety disorder or SAD. Social Anxiety Disorder empty classroom

Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia) is characterized by a significant amount of fear in one or more social situations,  These fears are triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. Feared activities include almost any type of social interaction, especially small groups, dating, parties, talking to strangers, restaurants, interviews, etc. It is the most common anxiety disorder with up to 10% of people being affected at some point in their life.


Physical symptoms include excessive blushing, excess sweating, trembling, palpitations, and nausea, stammering, and rapid speech. Panic attacks can be triggered. Alcohol and/or other drugs become crutches and used to reduce fears and inhibitions at social events. This can lead to alcoholism, eating disorders or other kinds of substance abuse. SAD can be  referred to as an illness of lost opportunities where we make choices based upon our disorder. The main diagnostic criteria of social phobia are fear of being the focus of attention, or fear of behaving in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating, avoidance and anxiety symptoms. People who suffer from this disorder may isolate themselves from society to avoid such situations.

Social phobias present as dread over how you will be presented to others. Feelings of being overly self-conscious, greater expectations after the activity, or having high performance standards. A sufferer attempts to create a impression towards others but believes he or she is unable to do so. Many times, sufferers deliberately review what could go wrong and how to deal with each unexpected case, usually with failure as a result.. After the event, they will relive anything that may have possibly been abnormal as embarrassing (remembering more negative memories than those less distressed). These thoughts extend for weeks or longer. The memories become a part of how we look at ourselves and disrort how we look at future events. These thoughts are often self-defeating and inaccurate.

Social experiences

For around half of those diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a specific traumatic or humiliating social event appears to be associated with the onset or worsening of the disorder; this kind of event appears to be related to performance social phobia, for example public speaking. Direct experiences, observing or hearing about the socially negative experiences of others, or verbal warnings of problems and dangers, also make the development of a social anxiety disorder more likely. The longer-term effects of not fitting in, or being bullied, rejected or ignored may also contribute. Socially phobic children are less likely to receive positive reactions from others and anxious, inhibited children may tend to isolate themselves.


Social Anxiety Disorder substance abuseWhile alcohol initially relieves social phobia, alcohol misuse worsens social phobia symptoms and can cause panic disorder attacks, while intoxicated and during alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This effect can also occur with long-term use of drugs which are similar to alcohol such as the benzodiazepines (prescribed as tranquillizers). Benzodiazepines can be useful for the short-term treatment of severe anxiety. They tend to be mild and well tolerated; however, there is a risk of developing a habit.

People who are addicted to alcohol or prescribed benzodiazepines have a choice between ongoing anxiety issues  or quitting and recovering from their symptoms.

A little motivation….


The attention given to social anxiety disorder has significantly increased since 1999 with the approval and marketing of drugs for its treatment.

The first line treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is effective individually or in a group setting. CBT attempts to change thought patterns and physical reactions to anxiety-inducing situations. The goal of CBT is to identify irrational beliefs/thought patterns and replace them with a more realistic view.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, are first choice medication for generalized social phobia. General side-effects are common during the first weeks, symptoms may include headaches, nausea, insomnia and changes in sexual behavior. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine have shown similar effectiveness to the SSRIs.

Some people with a form of social phobia called performance
phobia have been helped by beta-blockers, which are more commonly used to
control high blood pressure. Taken in low doses, they control the physical
manifestation of anxiety and can be taken before a public performance.

Meditation can also help. I suggest Mindful Meditation. Easy and something you may already do everyday!


How does someone with a fear of public speaking become an Instructor? For me, it came down to a choice between advancing in my profession or being stuck in lower level positions, waiting for retirement. When I applied for the Instructor position, my current bosses all told me I would fail and it would reflect on them. To me, failure was where I was, and as for them, I had no feelings one way or the other.Luckily, the decision came down to me.

I said no formal counseling. True but I did have to graduate a four week Instructor course. This was an intensive, hands-on course where a group went thru classroom training combined with exercises to become an Instructor. We started out giving three minute “This is me” introductions and at the end of the course had to do a 45 minute presentation, video-taped and to a class of students we had not had contact with. This could be considered a type of CBT. I had to face real facts, not my fear facts. I looked at the causes and at the results. I was given strategies for improvement and given tools and tips on how to improve. I also gained coping strategies and confidence.

My success in overcoming the fear of being in front of a group was overcome by my determination to improve and to grow, both as a person and in my profession. Being prepared for each day’s class gave me the structure, maintaining a positive mindset gave me the ability to present the material. Each day fed positive energy into the next.

So what is your success story? I know you have at least one, even if it is only smiling at the cute cashier before looking back down? If you do have SAD, why not give CBT a try?

Do you have any information you would like to share? Any personal experiences? If you have any questions or suggestions on other alternative options, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment below. I will reply as soon as I can!

Walking the Path of Peace,









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2 thoughts on “Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder”

  1. I can imagine that this can be a very sensitive affliction to have, and i have experienced people who have shown the symptoms. Trying to fit in with social groups or gatherings they appeared tense and nervous, and in a hurry to leave. I believe they can learn something from your article and i hope it helps them to overcome their anxiety,

    • Thanks for the comment. SAD can show many faces, being tense and nervous are two of the more common. For some, there is zero chance of even going out to a social event. CBT can treat SAD and allow for a more normal life.
      Walk in the Path of Peace,


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