Emerging From Social Anxiety

For those who suffer from a social phobia there’s always a dark cloud overhead about to rain on their parade, writes the War Cry.

We have all, at one time or another, suffered from a bad (and ill timed) case of nerves before a social or professional event.

Maybe it accompanied our first foray into public speaking or our first big birthday party, however, most of us find that after a while we get used to the situation, and are able to control our nerves. Yet for some people within our community the thought of having to place themselves in social situations can make them physically ill. Unsurprisingly, such people suffer from something known as ” social phobia”.

Research has shown that people most likely to suffer from a social phobia tend to display emotional personality traits and, as such as more likely to become depressed, anxious and have panic attacks. Social phobias can also develop through a combination of negative experiences, poor nurturing and genetic inheritance.

Growing up, we are each presented with situations which test our resolve and maturity, and in everyone’s childhood there will be experiences that have affected us negatively. For some, these experiences carry more than just a resonance into their adult lives.

For example, standing in front of a class giving your first talk and being presented with a roomful of disinterested, maybe even hostile, faces would be a distasteful memory for most of us. But for those more sensitive to their external environment, the situation could spark and endless cycle of social problems.

People suffering from social phobia experience a variety of symptoms when faced with a feared social situation. The most common symptom is known as anticipatory anxiety. Catherine Madigan, a Melbourne based clinical psychologist who treats social phobias, explains why sufferers experience such as reaction.

“People with a social phobia have a fear of being negatively evaluated or judged by others. They worry that when they get into a social situation they will do something to embarrass or humiliate themselves”.

When sufferers find themselves in this situation, the anxiety that occurs gets even worse. Some people experience panic attacks, excessive sweating, heart pounding, nausea, shaking, blushing and a variety of other symptoms. These symptoms usually cause sufferers to avoid social situations, which, depending on the phobia, can cause them to lead isolated, perhaps even unfulfilled lives.

Luckily for social phobia sufferers there is help available. In Melbourne, Madigan, runs a treatment program, which, she claims, is 80% effective. The program, designed by a group of American psychologists, is also geared towards showing sufferers how to finally enjoy life in a friendly group situation….. Madigan explains”because sufferers have a fear of being negatively evaluated by others it is more realistic to be in a group”.

The treatment is based on a 3 point premise-graded, repeated and prolonged exposure to the feared situation. Grading the treatment means you expose the sufferer to their least feared situation, then when they can cope with that they move onto the next hurdle, until they reach the hardest possible scenario for them.

By repeating the exposure to the situation the sufferer gets used to feelings of anxiety, and becomes more able to deal with them. More importantly, the exposure to the situation has to be prolonged. The person is not allowed to leave just because they feel uncomfortable.” By prolonging the time in the situation, sufferers learn that after a while, their anxiety levels come down and they can tolerate being there”, says Madigan. “Furthermore, they learn that the next time they find themselves in the situation they feel more positive and relaxed”.

The success of the program depends upon the amount of work people are willing to put into their own treatment, she says.

“Social phobias are something you need to keep working on, the treatment helps you to improve a lot but unless you keep up your social contacts, social phobias can start creeping back.”

Receiving group therapy for the treatment of phobias can be a fun and effective way to come to terms with the problem. It not only helps people to deal with life hindering problems, but gives group support. By introducing sufferers to a social environment, everyone can help each other get the best possible treatment for their problem.

Article written by Danielle Johanesen. “The War Cry” 7th November 1998

This article published on Nov 10, 2012. View related Articles

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