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The Silent Epidemic - Social Anxiety.

Social anxiety is described as an intense and unreasonable fear of social situations

Imagine entering a crowded room at a party. Does your heart beat faster? Do you sweat, shake or become tense? Are you afraid of being embarrassed or making mistakes to the point that these thoughts overwhelm you? A significant number of people answer yes to these questions and that's because they could be suffering from what is known as Social Anxiety Disorder.

Social anxiety is described as an intense and unreasonable fear of social situations. This usually encompasses a concern of being judged, criticised or watched closely by other people. There's also a general fear of being embarrassed which can lead to the person avoiding social situations all together.

But is this the same as shyness? While there may be some overlapping characteristics, the two experiences are very different. Shyness is mild and has an element of fear or worry about other people's opinions, while the distress in social anxiety is debilitating and stops one from enjoying or taking part in social situations.

Some of the signs of this disorder include the fear of:

Meeting new people

Talking in groups

Eating or drinking while in the company of others


Talking to people in authority

Speaking on the telephone

Being the centre of attention

When social anxiety reaches a peak it can result in a panic attack which can last for a few minutes. The person experiencing this fears losing complete control and might feel as if they're going mad or even dying. While panic attacks usually pass rapidly, during the most intense phase, it's quite a scary experience and can leave a person feeling extremely shaken up, drained and weak.

There are several physiological symptoms associated with social anxiety, which are:

Dry mouth

Heart pounding



Numbness or pins and needles in extremities

Khalid, a 35-year-old writer, has suffered from social anxiety for years. "I always fear that people may think I'm boring or dull. I don't go to parties or talk to people as much as possible. I prefer being at home by myself," says Khalid. He also adds that sometimes being isolated from others can cause him to be depressed and lonely. "I just worry so much about what to say, how to laugh, where to stand, who to talk to -- my goodness, gives me anxiety just thinking about it!"

While it's not known what actually causes this type of anxiety, research suggests that early parenting can play a contributory role in triggering or facilitating such a condition. Overprotective and unaffectionate parents who constantly criticise and exaggerate the dangers of talking to strangers may also be possible influencing factors.

Social anxiety can be damaging to personal and professional relationships. These people are often timid and remain in the background, avoiding working to their full potential and may not seek employment in areas where they have to have regular communication with others. Personal relationships suffer and men with social anxiety, especially, have been found to have difficulty in sustaining long-term relationships.

Recent research at Stanford University has found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be the most effective in treating social anxiety disorder. One of the main researchers, Philippe Goldin, states that "by reframing negative emotions and helping people respond to such emotions, counselling and behavioural therapy can be extremely effective". By reaffirming thoughts like "no one likes me" to "some people like me" can influence the way the brain regulates emotions and the person can develop strategies to combat their anxiety.

Arthur Somers Roche eloquently described the sensation as, "Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained." Don't let your aspirations be stolen by irrational fears and worries. Seek professional help if you find this ailment affecting the quality of your life. Doubt and dread are bullies that don't allow positivity and confidence in so they need to be confronted and eliminated. These fears are usually baseless so with the right approach, social settings can once again be appreciated rather than avoided.


Samineh I. Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, consultant at HRI, learning & development advisor and owner of Life Clubs UAE. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and now the UAE. She co hosts a radio program on 103.8 FM Dubai Eye (Psyched Sundays, Voices of Diversity 10-12pm) every Sunday morning discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Twitter: @saminehshaheem/Facebook: Life Clubs UAE

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Nov 2, 2013
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