Social anxiety – or social phobia – is a mental health condition which causes the sufferer to experience on-going and overwhelming fear of social situations. It often begins in adolescence and if left untreated can continue well into adulthood, with one in six British adults experiencing a neurotic health problem within the last week and more than one in 10 will develop a disabling anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Anxiety – particularly social anxiety – is one of the most common mental health disorders around the world. In fact, the world health organisation recently undertook a study which found that 40% of worldwide disability is due to depression or anxiety. In the UK around six million people are affected by depression and anxiety disorder, with around half of them experiencing anxiety as the more prevalent condition, and the other half primarily experiencing depression.

With so many teenagers heading back to school again this month, the pressures of social circles, exams, performance and social media are once again heightened after the six-week lull of the summer holidays – those heading to a new school, or joining new classes are particularly susceptible to begin experiencing social anxiety.

But what is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety is often described as a form of extreme shyness; however, it is much more than that and can affect your day to day life, sometimes preventing you from leaving the house and limiting your social life. Sufferers can experience panic attacks when forced into social situations and often struggle with the following symptoms:

· Difficulty meeting with strangers
· Avoiding eye contact
· Difficulty calling strangers – for example, when trying to book an appointment with a receptionist
· Avoiding social activities
· Nausea when faced with social situations
· Racing heart or palpitations
· Feeling as though everyone is watching and/or criticising you
· Feeling as though normal bodily functions – such as blushing or sweating – is embarrassing
· Low self esteem
· Difficulty leaving the house
· Eating meals alone, rather than in the company of strangers

Those who suffer with social anxiety often suffer with a number of other mental health conditions, most commonly; depression, body dysmorphic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder can prevent you from leaving the house – even for necessary activities such as a weekly food shop or a business meeting – and prevent you from enjoying the little things in life such as meals out, holidays and parties or get-togethers with friends and loved ones.

How does it develop?

Social anxiety on average develops at around 13 years old, as children become teenagers and join secondary school – however it often takes sufferers between 15 and 20 years to seek help for the problem. Anxiety disorder can be caused by:

· Stress
· Childhood environment
· Genetic predisposition
· Other mental health conditions
· Biochemical imbalances

Anxiety disorder, despite how common it is, is likely to affect sufferers for upwards of ten years before seeking any assistance with handling social anxiety, however once you are practicing a treatment plan, it can very quickly have an effect on improving your symptoms.

Do I have social anxiety disorder?

If you have experienced any combination of known symptoms of social anxiety disorder, whether it is something you have experienced for many years, or the first time you have experienced the symptoms it is worth getting a professional opinion. Only a doctor or recognised professional can determine whether or not you have social anxiety disorder – or whether you’re experiencing another mental health condition. If you suspect you have social anxiety disorder, speak to an expert such as your GP or a local doctor, to obtain the correct diagnosis before beginning any treatment to prevent misdiagnoses and potentially worsening your condition.

Can anxiety be treated:

With the right help – whether it be through medicine, therapy or a combination – anxiety can be fully treatable, no matter how long you have been suffering with your mental health. Finding the right plan that works for you can take a little time, but once it’s in place you can notice the difference within a matter of weeks and quickly get back on track towards enjoying your life again.

How to help yourself:

Deep or mindful breathing and meditation can be extremely beneficial to those who are suffering from social anxiety – it can help anxiety sufferers to control their anxiety in public and even prevent panic attacks. Practicing yoga is also an extremely effective way towards managing the symptoms of anxiety – whilst experts suggest 30 minutes of exercise three times a week can make a positive influence on your over-all mental health. Keeping a diary, both of how you’re feeling as well as a to-do list for the following day or week can also keep your anxiety about forgetting something at bay, whilst writing down your thoughts can help you empty your mind and get a good night’s sleep.

If you’re experiencing social anxiety and struggling to manage, don’t wait to seek help in getting better and living your life to its full extent. Social anxiety can be extremely debilitating, however with the right treatment in place – whether it be a form of therapy or medication, or a combination of the two – you are more likely to get a little more from life. Online therapy is the perfect way to get back on track when you sometimes might struggle to leave the house – experience a professional service with experienced therapists without leaving the comfort of your own sofa. If you want to learn more about online therapy and how it could work for you, visit our website to learn more or sign up for a quick chat to discuss your needs.