While topics such as anxiety, phobias and mental health are not at the top of people's minds as they prepare for Christmas, British online publication Medical News Today raised social anxiety disorder as a subject of importance for families and friends.
While the majority of Australians might suffer the mildness of delivery anxiety or indebtedness anxiety—or maybe someone just finds family get-togethers stressful—a section of the population are not just being difficult or odd when they express an unwillingness to attend social events.
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is of a serious nature and can be debilitating. People with the disorder seek to avoid social situations, as they typically find themselves anxious in the company of others, unable to engage in any kind of conversation, afraid of judgment, and very anxious because of the mere thought of a social event—it can emerge days or even weeks beforehand.
The following physical symptoms usually arise:
- increased heart rate
- intense self-consciousness
- muscle tension
- difficulty breathing
Although the condition can be disabling and can significantly affect people's lives due to the impact upon relationships, research has shown that it is often overlooked in comparison to other disorders. A research fellow from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explained to MNT that the disorder is not taken seriously, "Because most of us feel shy or even moderately socially anxious in certain situations". But it is critical that those close to people with the disorder recognise that it is not simply shyness, as the provision of close support—including the opportunity for sufferers to talk openly about their experience—has been identified as the best way for family and friends to help out.
According to clinical psychologist Catherine Madigan, a 2007 study found that social phobia "has affected 10.6% of Australians at some time in their life, with 12.8% of women and 8.4% of men having had the disorder at some point."
With Christmas only a week away—and then New Year—medical professionals recommend that discussions occur with loved ones so that people with the phobia can go into lunches, dinners and drinks with adequate support. Beyond Blue and Anxiety Treatment Australia offer both information and clinical support.