30 August 2007

Just shy?

You absolutely dread social occasions. Are you just shy, or do you have social phobia?

You have a friend’s birthday party coming up and you’ve been dreading it for weeks. The sweaty palms, the strangers, all those things that could go wrong.

“My problem is that whenever I have to speak in public, I get so afraid and start shaking uncontrollably. I don't like this because it makes me look pathetic and stupid”, a forum user writes to the CyberShrink for help.

An anxious student writes: “When asked a question I find it extremely difficult to answer. The same happens when I want to consult a lecturer – I am aware of myself.”

Are these people just shy, or are they struggling with social phobia, a misunderstood anxiety disorder?

What is the difference? While shy people may experience uneasiness around others, social phobia can be the cause of extreme anxiety as the sufferer anticipates specific social occasions with horror. This phobia may also lead to the avoidance of social situations that trigger self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is defined as an intense fear of scrutiny by other people in a social situation, or a fear of doing something humiliating in that setting.

Can it be treated?
Social anxiety disorder responds well to treatment. However, many sufferers often do not seek help, and many doctors have a low level of awareness regarding the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. One effective treatment for phobias is Real-life desensitisation, also known as in-vivo desensitisation or exposure, which involves overcoming phobias through direct exposure.

Dreading social encounters

If other social encounters fill you with dread and anxiety, it could lead to complex patterns of avoidance that severely restrict daily life. However, once the diagnosis is made, this illness can be treated very effectively by either a specific type of psychotherapy and/or medication.

Isn’t everyone afraid of public speaking? If you, like one in every five people, have a deadly fear of public speaking then perhaps you only need to use the following valuable pointers provided by William Smook, for that intimidating work presentation:

  • Know your subject.
  • Know the venue.
  • Know the crowd.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Make notes.
  • Insert reminders.
  • Practice.
  • Know the equipment.
  • Have a dry run at the venue.
  • Engage with your audience.
  • Speak up.
  • Use your hands.
  • Consider voice training.
  • Join the Toastmasters.
  • Don’t belabour the point.
  • Don’t catastrophise.

Read more: What is social phobia?


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