Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder, characterized by an overwhelming desire to avoid interaction with other people. It may be co-morbid with agoraphobia (fear of crowds) or another anxiety disorder. Social anxiety may include shyness, fear of public speaking, fear of eating in public and other behaviors. A lot of the cognitive/perceptual aspects is essentially the fear of being judged. This disorder is also called social phobia, or social anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety can prevent the sufferer from leaving the house since that could lead to a possible infinite number of casual encounters that can cause sweaty palms, a racing heart, a tied tongue, and other symptoms people with social anxiety suffer.
Most social anxiety begins between late childhood and the teenage years; however, people can acquire social anxiety later in life usually due to a traumatic social experience. Furthermore, social anxiety that is left untreated and ignored can often grow worse with time.
Women Hit Hardest
Although social anxiety affects both genders, studies have shown that a quarter of middle aged women had depression and/or anxiety. A few reasons could be due to society’s emphasis on youth and beauty and how it affects both social interactions as well as business relationships. Also, women this age are often taking care of an ailing parent as well as their own children and may feel overwhelmed by familial responsibilities. Add a full-time job with other everyday stressors, combined with a general lack of social support, anxiety can worsen. Furthermore, hormonal changes may increase anxiety levels in middle aged women.
There’s some good news regarding social anxiety in older adults:
Anxiety can reduce with age: Research studies found a reduction in anxiety between middle age and the elderly. Along with coping methods the person may learn as they age, the actual disorder may spontaneously subside.
Better treatment is available for social anxiety: Each decade since the 1980s has vastly improved the understanding of and the treatment options for the disorder. There is more awareness in the medical establishment and general population, so there is less of a stigma from the behaviors of social anxiety as well as seeking treatment.
More tolerance to diversity: Differences between people are better understood and accepted. For instance, someone with a stutter is less likely to be teased and ostracized, and because of the exposure people have had with the condition, they are more likely to be patient with someone with a social disorder.
Below are several tips that could help someone with social anxiety cope:
- Seek treatment – There are more therapies and medications than ever today and most clients find them effective to some degree.
- Build a community – Find some supportive people who can empathize with your situation.
- Keep in communication – Force yourself to stay in touch with people and be aware if you are acting antisocial.
- Address the problem as an anxiety disorder before a social disorder – Thinking of it as a medical condition can take the emphasis off the social aspect, which will help to reduce anxiety about the disorder.
- Focus on positive interactions – Try to find something positive in every interaction, and enjoy it for what it is.
- Strive for strong self-esteem – You don't need to be the life of the party to have a high-self esteem; just show up to the party every now and then.
- A lifetime of experience – The middle aged person has a lifetime of experiences to draw from in terms of sustaining conversation, knowing their own comfort level in terms to places to go and which type of people can be supportive. They usually know themselves well and know when to push themselves to interact and when to back off.