Snow White was tentative and shy, yet she was also beautiful, spiritful and capable. Fortunately, as luck would have it, her shyness was not excessive and fell within the range of normal behaviour. Being prone to moderate degrees of shyness never prevented her from actualising her life. In this well known make-believe story, sweet Snow White, never had the misfortune of experiencing Social Anxiety, which is the extreme overdose, of unacceptably intense feelings of shyness, that overcrowd a person’s potential capabilities and achievements. Leaving the land of imagination and arriving back to the heavy handed and harsh reality of real life, we find people in our contemporary society, have not been so lucky.
Everyone has at some point in their lives, enjoyed the quaintness and sweetness of a fairytale with its accompanying characters. Social Phobia on the other hand, takes on a mean destructive force, similar to that of the wicked witch and can manifest itself in innovative ways, outdoing the originality of a juicy red apple. Likewise, the number of social phobias that can plague a person’s existence, far exceed the seven delightful dwarves of this famous tale. Instead, there are the full-blown fears of making public speeches, eating or drinking in public, writing (scriptophobia), driving on highways, sexual performance, dating anxieties, public bathroom anxieties, agoraphobia (terrified of leaving a confined space for fear of a panic attack) , dealing with authority figures, spiders, the darkness and a host of others.
In offering some description, that would adequately express the essence of the nature of Social Phobia, it is an umbrella term, for a number of classified anxiety disorders. As such it has no preference for age, gender, social status or culture and is one of the most common mental disorders that prevail in the fabric of our society.
One of the aims of the South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group, based in Gauteng, is to create awareness as well as to promote understanding in order to assist persons in overcoming Social Anxiety. The reason for the wide prevalence of this anxiety disorder is that people fail to seek treatment either because they fear they will not be taken seriously, their shyness prevents them from doing so, or, they are not aware that their symptoms indicate the presence of a disorder. Counsellors at the Group are able to be contacted during weekdays between 8.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. on (011) 783-1474 and on Saturdays between 8.00 a.m. and 7.00p.m. Assistance is provided in terms of containing clients and providing them with referrals to professionals in the Mental Health Industry, where effective treatment can be obtained.
One of the core, recognisable features of Social Phobia is the persistent, extreme and unfounded fear of humiliation or embarrassment in social situations. Another is disproportionate self-consciousness where one is terrified of being observed by other people. Together with this, their social anxiety becomes so intense that their
daily activities become significantly and detrimentally affected. They may avoid situations to provide short term relief from their anxiety but the price they pay is very often, to live only half a life. Snow White may have lived in a land of oblivion but for those with Social Phobia, there is generally, acute and agitated awareness. They know their feelings are out of sync with reality and feel powerless to rectify them. This causes the added emotions of irritation, frustration and concern. There is a constant struggle to come to grips with the consequences of their fear and acrobatic avoidance acts, which result in lost opportunities, relationships, employment, social enjoyment, sexual pleasures as well as promoting depression and loneliness.
In social contexts where anxiety levels become overwhelming, the person may experience physical symptoms such as blushing, accellerated heart rate, profuse perspiration, headaches, abdominal discomfort (such as feeling like there is an elephant stampede in one’s stomach), trembling (or feeling like your legs are doing a breakdance), shaking, concentration problems etcetera. To add more heat to an already flaming hot situation, the person becomes totally self-absorbed with his or her bodily reactions and experiences additional distress because of them. So in a nutshell, a person feels tremendous social fear, more fear at their physical responses, then additional fear about their fear of the fear, and so it continues, in a vicious cycle of fear-based behaviours. Bungy jumping is probably less daunting.
Unlike healthy functioning individuals, whose nervous system is able to appropriately deal with nervousness and normal fear-inducing contexts, sufferers of Social Phobia seem to have systems that have gone awry, and it is certainly not a case of singing, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, its off to work I go”, in the morning. Pharmacotherapeutic treatment can be extremely effective and possibly put the “Hi-Ho, back into your daily life. The SADAASG can be contacted for more in-depth information.