Social phobia: what is it and how to overcome it?
Do you feel an extreme shame when talking with people you do not know? Do you feel very insecure when you are surrounded by people most of the time? Does it cause you great discomfort to speak in public? Do these fears make it very difficult for you to carry out your daily tasks or talk to other people at work or at school?
If this happens to you often, you may suffer a anxiety disorder called social phobia.
Social phobia: what is it?
This disorder is often confused with the shy , but not all shy people suffer from social phobia.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in Journal Pediatrics in 2011, 50 percent of teenagers are shy, but of these, only 12 percent meet the criteria of social phobia .
Social phobia is a strong Irrational fear towards situations of social interaction . For example, the person who suffers from social phobia feels extreme anxiety when being judged by others, being the center of attention, by the idea of being criticized by other individuals and, even, by talking on the phone with other people.
Social phobics are aware that they should not feel so bad in the face of triggering situations, but are unable to control their fear and anxiety. In addition, they usually avoid the situations that cause the symptoms of this disorder, because they are not able to withstand the discomfort.
Among these individuals there are different degrees of the disorder , and some people may feel the symptoms in some social situations (Specific social phobia), while others can feel them in all social situations (Generalized social phobia).
Social phobia usually begins during adolescence , and it is usual that people who suffer from it do not seek help until after ten years of presenting symptoms. Like most phobias, the environment plays a determining role in their learning.
Although some research indicates that social phobia may be due to a mismatch of neurotransmitters (especially serotonin), the traumatic experiences of the past, having grown overprotected by the family or limiting opportunities for social interaction are the most common causative factors of this phobia.
The symptomatology of social phobia is not different from that of other phobias, since individuals suffering from social phobia have anxious symptoms and extreme fear in daily social situations. They think they are watched and judged by everyone , and when they do things badly they feel very embarrassed. The fear and anxiety they feel is so intense that it interferes with their work, school and other day-to-day activities.
In addition, other symptoms of social phobia include:
- To blush (Erythrophobia)
- Difficulty speaking
- Profuse sweating
As mentioned, people with this type of phobia They tend to avoid situations that can cause discomfort and exposed symptoms . Among these situations are:
- Attend parties and other social gatherings
- Eating, drinking and writing in public
- Meet new people
- Public speaking
- Use the public toilets
The psychological treatment that is usually used to treat social phobia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), since it helps and facilitates knowing the origin of the problem and the development of new ways of solving the feared situations or phobias. CBT focuses on training the patient to detect irrational thoughts and replace them with those that will improve their quality of life. In addition, Behavioral Cognitive Therapy also includes exposure strategies to the feared stimuli, in this way the patient experiences the irrationality of the phobia for himself.
Therefore, the most frequent treatment includes strategies of cognitive restructuring, social skills training, relaxation and exposure. It is important to understand that exposure is sufficient for specific social phobia, but for generalized social phobia there are different intervention programs that include different strategies. Here we present three of the most used programs (usually take advantage of the group format):
- Cognitive behavioral therapy in groups from Heimberg et al. (1998): Cognitive restructuring, group behavioral tasks and exposure to real everyday situations.
- Comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy de Davidson et al. (2004): Cognitive restructuring, group behavioral tasks and exposure to real everyday situations and training in social skills.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy of Clark et al.(1995): proposes an Individual Treatment Protocol more focused on cognitive aspects (interpretation of social situations, performance and social risk, expectations, attention, etc.).
- Bravo, M. A. and Padrós, F., (2013) Explanatory models of social phobia: A cognitive behavioral approach. Uaricha, 11 (24), 134-147.
- Hermans, D. Vantseenwegen, D. and Craske, M. G. (2008). Fears and phobias: Debates, future research and clinical implications. In M. G. Craske, D. Hermans and Vansteenwegen (Eds.), Fears and phobias: from the basic processes to the clinical implications (pp. 257-264). Mexico: Modern Manual.
- Torgrud, L.J., Walker, J.R., Murray, L., Cox, B.J., Chartier, M. and Kjernisted, K.D. (2004). Deficits in perceived social support associated with generalized social phobia. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 33 (2), 87-96.