How is social phobia treated?

How is social phobia treated?

Do you consider yourself a shy person? The majority answer this question in the affirmative, although many clarify that it depends on the situation. But it cannot be that we are all shy or that all shy people have social phobias. And, beyond the labels, what is truly relevant is when it is a problem that traps us, and it is convenient to ask for help.

As pointed out by an expert, “shyness is a common personality trait, and it does not have to be pathological in all cases”. He points out that “in some contexts, it is viewed positively”.

Psychologists point out that shyness is “a characteristic, something that is part of us and that manifests itself in certain situations, such as when we have to express ourselves in public or relate socially”.

When can we talk about social phobia?

“The key to differentiating shyness from social phobia lies in the degree of impact that the symptoms have -which are very similar- in the different spheres of the person’s life, and if, in addition to the degree of discomfort, the diagnostic criteria are met. For example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in its fifth edition (DSM-5)”, explains the clinical psychologist. According to said reference manual in psychiatry, social phobia is fundamentally characterised by the presence of “fear or anxiety in one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible examination by other people”.

It is, therefore, “a disorder with a clinical entity, that is, a disease, which is part of the anxiety disorders “.

Regarding the frequency of the personality trait and the disorder, it is estimated that shyness would affect up to 50% of the population in specific situations. In comparison, social phobia would be limited to 1-3%. Some authors “support the idea that most of us are shy -especially when we leave our comfort zones- but we have learned to mask it properly”. Moreover, it so happens that even people “with high social skills may have the same symptoms of anxiety or nervousness as a shy person, but they interpret these symptoms energetically and as something positive, rather than as a sign of a dangerous situation“.

In some way, it could be said that social phobia is the pathological extreme of shyness, which leads, in Rivero’s words, to “extreme fear and extreme avoidance.” Those who suffer from this disorder avoid, above all, situations related to exposure to the public, parties, and events that involve meeting new people …

Adolescence, a critical period

The time in which shyness and, in this case, social phobia affect the most is adolescence because it is a critical period in which there begins to be more social contact, a search for personal identity takes place and, ultimately, “We begin to be much more social beings, we care about other people for something more than playing and first loves and first disappointments and rejections arise, whether they are love affairs, friendships or expectations.

With adulthood, shyness is mitigated or disappears in many cases. “Different studies have found that 75% of shy children ceased to be so in their adulthood thanks to the influence of their environment and also to the maturation of the associated brain areas (frontal area of ​​the brain)”, asserts the expert. And all this is because “shyness also requires a sense of one’s own identity, which begins to settle more clearly after adolescence”.

How is social phobia treated?

Rivero indicates that shyness requires psychological treatment only in certain cases, while social phobia requires “always seeking help”. Management is usually based on a combination of drugs (especially anxiolytics and antidepressants) and psychological treatment “of a cognitive behavioural type and very practical”. Sometimes medications are dispensed with, but psychological guidelines are essential.

The first step is a detailed evaluation of the problem to “see what has triggered it and get to know the patient well,” with the aim of “gradually exposing to different situations”. The success rate of this type of therapy is quite high.

Come out of the ‘shell’ and make a fool of yourself.

Communication by mobile or computer can help many shy to come out of their shell, but to what extent do they have the potential to become a double-edged sword? All technology “is useful but, as in almost everything in life, it depends on how useful we give it since spending many hours talking to people does not have to help the shy to improve their interpersonal relationships.” 

technology “helps you meet people, but the next step has to be real interpersonal relationships, and for this, we often need specific social skills and knowing how to communicate differently than behind screens.” What would happen is that “Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and other ways of contacting others bring us closer to distant people, but they distance us from close people, who, after all, are the ones who will help you grow in this life. Because they are the ones who live with you and spend real hours with you.”

To deal with shyness, it is recommends signing up for theatre or dance activities, which represent a way available to everyone to expose themselves to situations in which they feel uncomfortable. Faced with shame and the fear of not living up to the circumstances, the expert claims the benefits of “making a lot of fools.”

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