Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning To Live With Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Success Skills | Remove Obstacles

By Jonathan Dunnemann

What might cause an individual to feel as though they are less capable, valued, or worthy than another person? Repeated criticism, living in a foster care home, parental neglect, and past traumatic events are each significant possible causes. Additionally, the lack of a loving, safe, and supportive home atmosphere can adversely affect a youth's general self-confidence, decision-making, and their ability to both self-regulate and produce positive self-talk. Over time, these factors can ultimately "...interfere with work and school, love and sex, successful close relationships, and more, ... (Hollander and Bakalar, 2005)".

Absent harsh treatment and negative remarks most youth stand a good chance of growing comfortably into their our own skin. However, there are clear exceptions, as in the case of persons who may be genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders like that of social anxiety. Research conducted under the supervision of Academy Research Fellow Iiris Hovatta have focused on genes that influence human behaviour, and some of the studied genes show a statistical association with specific anxiety disorders (Science Daily, 2008).

As difficult of an obstacle as social anxiety can be, it is still something that can be successfully managed through a combination of treatments and interventions. I know this to be true based on my personal experience with it. "Although historically well known (the term phobie des situations sociales was coined by a French doctor, Pierre, in 1903), social anxiety was not officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder until 1980--that's when the American Psychiatric Association first included the disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the essential reference book of psychiatry (Hollander and Bakalar, 2005)."

One of the most well known athletes to be affected by this social anxiety disorder is former National Football League, New Orleans Saints running back Ricky Williams. Please take a few minutes out of your day to listen to what he has to say about how social anxiety, a form of psychological fear created tremendous emotional distress for him on and off the field. 

Failing to treat social anxiety disorder has serious consequences both for the individual and for society in general. People with social anxiety have high rates of outpatient medical treatment and high rates of suicide. They are more likely to be financially dependent and to suffer from other psychiatric illnesses, particularly alcohol abuse. Their functioning at work and in school is more likely to be impaired, and the general state of their health is poorer than the rest of the population. Yet despite these data, established in careful studies, many people still consider social anxiety disorder a trivial complaint, unworthy of serious medical attention.
~ Eric Hollander, M.D. and Nicholas Bakalar

For many years, my marriage, career and social life or lack there of was hugely affected by difficulties with social anxiety.

Current estimates are that somewhere between 4 and 8 percent of adults suffer from [Social Anxiety Disorder] SAD in any year, and that the percentage of people suffering from the disorder at some time in their lives is even higher. Such a rate makes social anxiety, after depression and alcoholism, the third most common psychiatric disorder.
~ Eric Hollander, M.D. and Nicholas Bakalar
Eventually, I conceded to the advice of my wife and medical professionals to explore a possible medical solution. It proved helpful for a time, but in the end, I determined that medicine alone could not effectively address the root cause for my insecurity and fear.  The additional work required proved much harder for me to tackle and it has taken a very long time to get to the point where I experience the benefits on a regular basis. My approach has involved the combined use of exercise, good nutrition, mindfulness, professional counseling, spiritual practices, and most recently contemplative writing. Fear still remains my worst enemy but I have gained the upper hand and I intend to do everything within my power to keep it that way.
Childhood sexual abuse, the lack of a close relationship with an adult, failure in early grades of school, and dropping out of high school were all associated with SAD. So were moving more than three times as a child, involvement with the juvenile justice system, and running away from home.
~ Eric Hollander, M.D. and Nicholas Bakalar 

What works best for each person will likely vary. If you or someone that you know is facing a similar set of challenges, do yourself or them an important favor, seek assistance and encourage them to do so as well. That way, the necessary work that is involved can begin sooner rather than later thereby removing a huge obstacle in their path to living a more fulfilling life. One that can and deservedly should be less difficult and fear-filled.

Eric Hollander, M.D. and Nicholas Bakalar, (2005). Coping with Social Anxiety: The Definitive Guide To Effective Treatment Options, Henry Holt and Company: New York.