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Afraid of People: Sociophobia and Social Anxiety

Updated on March 26, 2015
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Ruth Kongaika was born in the Rocky Mountains and has lived most of her life in the South Pacific. She travels, gardens and writes.


Remember that kid in high school who never raised his hand. He probably felt like an outsider. What about coworkers that don't contribute to the meetings. This is shyness that goes way beyond what you could imagine. We've all known people like this or may be the one. Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental disorder after depression and substance abuse.

Shyness and anxiety disorder are very different. Those with the disorder feel panic attacks. They may be smart, but lack confidence. Computer programmers, poets, writers, artists are filled with people with anxiety disorders. They feel frozen and don't want to look people in the eyes. For them, it often feels like a life and death situation. After years of battling anxiety, with proper help, they can overcome and handle situations much better.

How does it affect families. It is chemistry. There is effective treatment. Everyone wants to be confident and have friends, but many have to get past the fear. Anxiety and depression has been following me around most of my life.

When I get up in the morning, and start getting ready for work, I already am feeling anxious. Anxiety builds as the day goes on. Sociophobia affects millions of people worldwide. Those who suffer from intense anxiety become very overly sensitive about what other people are thinking about them. They are not paranoid, but feel that people are judging them, criticizing or evaluating them. They have tremendous interpersonal sensitivity. They are afraid they are looking stupid or inarticulate and feel a desire to run away from the situation.

There is a range of social anxiety severity - some deal daily with much effort and pain. For some it only manifests itself in performance situations. It is hard to form friendships or relationships with this condition. They often visibly shake and have difficulty speaking. They feel like they are under a spotlight. Leaving the house for very long is something they cannot bear ,especially when there is a group of people like at a party, dance, or meeting.

My personal experience goes way back to when I was a child. If I had to give a presentation or report, I would get stage fright and often stutter or forget my words. It takes so much more courage for me to get up in front of the class. I remember one boy who was giving a presentation in English class. He was so shy that he wet his pants in front of the class. After I have given a talk, I worry about exactly what I said and if it was worth doing. It is easier to stay quiet and hide in the back of a class.

It certainly runs in families, but that is only part of it. Perhaps a child was rejected, poorly evaluated, or humiliated and they become more and more fearful. They develop negative feelings towards participation in presentations. Over the last two decades, scientists have discovered what causes the illness. They feel a loss of control, embarrassment and shame. They become more and more fearful and avoidance of situations that may be similar.

Some acquire it. Temperamental bias which is inherited is not for shyness. What you inherit is a tendency to overreact to anything that's new, novel, unfamiliar. The circuitry of the brain involves the amygdala. This fires if something happens that is unexpected. Neurochemistry can make the amygdala very excitable. Some babies have a temperamental bias because of the chemistry when something passes their threshold. They become biased to reacting a certain way to certain circumstances.

Selective mutism is a disorder where they literally shut down. They do not communicate so no attention will be brought to them. These children are desperate to talk, but they cannot speak. Some are too dependent on their friends or brothers and sisters to share their feelings. Parents have a hard time determining if their child has a major anxiety. That is because they seem normal at home, but when they are in school, the anxiety becomes too much for them. They bond to children who will speak for them.

My husband is a very outgoing guy and loves to have attention from others. He is always talking and presenting and his profession is as a teacher. I am pretty much the opposite. Recognizing the problem is the beginning. Getting help with medications or therapy can help turn it around.

Socially anxious adults can get anxiety attacks just thinking about visiting relatives or even leaving the house. Heart palpitations can affect the person when they feel that they are being judged.

It does not only affect the child or adult that is suffering from social anxiety, but it affects their families, classmates, colleagues and others. They have low self esteem, are often depressed and like to be alone rather than out and about. Some times they become suicidal and feel helpless to overcome their anxiety.

Do you suffer from any of the following?

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In your opinion, what is the best way to deal with social anxiety?

© 2015 Elayne


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