Healthy Living: Avoiding Avoidance 

Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety Disorders, which include things like phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder, are among the most common types of mental health problems. About 18%, or one in five people will experience a clinical anxiety disorder in a 12-month period. Unfortunately, less than half of the people with anxiety disorders receive any type of treatment. Estimates are that about 37% of people with anxiety disorders receive any type of treatment. Social Phobia – One Type of Anxiety Disorder: One common type of phobia is termed social phobia, or social anxiety. Typically, symptoms of social phobia are first evident in the early teenage years. Social phobia impacts about 15 million Americans, and it causes everyday social situations to become fraught with anxiety and embarrassment. Defining Social Phobia: Social Phobia was long associated with being shy or timid, and its impact on people’s lives was minimized. However, in the early 1980’s, psychologists and other researchers began to focus on how social anxiety could be debilitating for some people. The essence of Social Phobia is:· Overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness when a person interacts with others. · Intense, chronic fear of being watched and judged by others. · Extreme fear of doing things that will cause embarrassment during a social interaction. · Intense physical and subjective anxiety in most social situations: for example, feeling sick to your stomach, sweating, or racing heart. The Avoidance Trap: Many people attempt to cope with anxiety through avoidance. People with social phobia, for example, may go to great lengths to avoid social interactions. The difficulty with this approach is that the relief from anxiety is only temporary, and it often makes it more difficult for the person to engage in social interactions in the future. While the saying “face your fears” borders on overused, the principle behind this is actually good psychology!Avoidance teaches us that our anxiety can only be reduced by finding a way out of an anxious situation. Upon closer scrutiny, this is not true. There are lots of ways to reduce anxiety. However, if we avoid anxiety producing situations we never allow ourselves to learn ways to cope. Treatment for Social Phobia: All anxiety disorders, including Social Phobia, have an excellent change of improving with treatment. People with social phobia often would like to be with other people more often, or would like to reach out to friends. However, when the moment comes, they typically experience extremely high levels of anxiety and feel compelled to change their plans. Treatment can help people with social phobia overcome this pattern of fear and avoidance. The types of treatment that are effective include: · Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying and changing thinking patterns which cause and perpetuate anxiety. These thinking patterns, and the behavior that follows, can be changed to break the cycle of escalating anxiety and avoidance of social interaction. · Behavior Therapy: Behavior Therapy, like systematic relaxation training, can be used to teach specific skills to reduce anxiety. It can also help people develop strategies other than avoidance for coping with anxiety. · Medications: The most commonly used medications for social phobia are anti-anxiety medications, or a class of antidepressant medications called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) often help make anxiety more manageable. Medications are often a helpful adjunct to “talk” therapies. “Behind every stressful thought there is a desire for things to be other than they are.” – Toni BernhardFor More Information: Acadia Hospital National Institute of Mental Health American Psychological Association