What is Social Anxiety Disorder (aka: Social Phobia), and is it on the Rise?

What is Social Anxiety Disorder (aka: Social Phobia), and is it on the Rise?

  • An extreme fear of humiliating or embarrassing oneself in social situations such as dates, parties, eating with other people, and classrooms.
  • Symptoms include shaking, blushing, gastrointestinal disturbances, sweating, and other signs of anxiety.

People with social anxiety disorder often avoid social situations

Anxiety Disorder Prevalence

“Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness affecting Canadian adults. The 12-month prevalence for anxiety disorders is over 12% and one in four Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime”. (www.anxietycanada.ca).

Social Anxiety Disorder (the stats):

-Social phobia is among the most common psychiatric illnesses

-Women are more likely than men to have the disorder

-Onset is typically in childhood or adolescence (a critical time for the development of social skills)

-Rarely does the phobia develop in adulthood

-The usual course is chronic and lifelong; some estimate an average of about 20 years

-Symptoms may fluctuate with stress and demands and may enter remission for an unspecified period
Statistics Canada 2016

There is growing evidence which suggests that social anxiety is on the rise. Researchers contend that this may have to with the role that social media has come to play in our everyday lives. In a study by the Alabama Academy of Science, it was suggested that social anxiety and Facebook-specific anxiety are significant predictors of each other. While there are indicators that there are some differences in these two concepts, there is evidence to suggest that anxiety in the offline realm translates easily into the online world. This finding seems intuitive given that both realms involve social interaction and an awareness of one’s self-presentation (Farquhar & Davidson, 2015).

“Media multitasking is associated with symptoms of depression and social anxiety.”
Becker, Alzahabi, & Hopwood, 2013

In an interesting study conducted with 319 college undergraduates exploring the association between media multitasking and the specific measures of depression and social anxiety (psychosocial dysfunction), it was suggested that there is a growing trend of multitasking with media which may represent a growing risk factor for problems related to mood and anxiety. There has been mounting evidence in health research that has resulted in the promotion of mindfulness practices – that, in fact: the concept of multitasking – something that was once thought to be a characteristic to brag about – is actually doing ourselves, and those around us, a disservice. For anyone that spends time around teenagers, it is common to hear teenagers proclaim that they “need” to have the TV or computer on or listen to music or YouTube while studying. It turns out that the wisdom of the older generations that intuitively felt this interfered with one’s ability to focus and one’s overall sense of wellbeing is true…
The study denotes: ‘the decreased top-down attentional control associated with media multitasking could disrupt active coping mechanisms that promote the rapid shift of attention away from negative stimuli, thereby resulting in heightened psychosocial dysfunction’ (read: increased anxiety).

A social-media related anxiety challenge that appears to be growing in prevalence is date-seeking individuals finding themselves successfully connecting with a potential mate via social media, but struggling with live interactions. Communicating via social media or texting (and sexting) appears to be no challenge at all. Instead, the challenge comes when the potential couple finally meet face-to-face and find themselves stricken with extreme social anxiety, and an impaired ability to communicate verbally. This appears to truly be a new form of social anxiety, and one that is lacking in research – our technology-driven society is increasingly challenged in the art of traditional conversation.
What can we do to decrease social anxiety? Putting down our devices and choosing to be mindfully present with those we are with is one of the most effective ways to reduce social anxiety in our online society. For many of us, this is can be easier said than done. If the acquirement of anxiety-reducing skills and techniques are needed, a customized therapeutic treatment plan can help.