What is a social anxiety disorder?
The (inordinate) fear of the opinion or criticism of others, to do something shameful or wrong, or to react wrong or strange, is called a social anxiety disorder. Such a fear shows similarities with normal embarrassment or insecurity, but can affect daily life very negatively because of its excessive form. Only with the greatest difficulty can one deal with the dreaded situations, places or people, and therefore tries to shy away from them. This, however, keeps the anxiety disorder in place and lead to social isolation.
If the excessive fear relates only to a very specific social situation (for example to hold a presentation, eat in a restaurant, or attend a wedding), it is called a specific social phobia. Like any specific phobia, it can usually be treated relatively easily.
If the fear covers a wide range of situations (such as a fear of shopping in general, or for parties in general, or for colleagues in general), one speaks of a generalized social phobia. The treatment of these is often more complex.
What is a specific phobia?
The fear reflex is an important survival mechanism: it prepares everything in the body to defend against danger, or flee. For example, the increase in heart rate and the faster breathing helps to provide the muscles with extra oxygen.
In the case of a specific phobia, however, an unnecessary connection is made in the brains between the fear reflex and fairly harmless or even unimportant things (like spiders, or dolls, or thunderstorms). This can lead to panic attacks, stress, or the desperate avoidance of certain places or situations.
It isn’t always clear how such an unnecessary fear reflex connection has come about. It sometimes happens after a shocking event such as a robbery, accident or sexual assault, but the fear (for snakes, for example) often does not have anything to do with the details of the event itself. As a result, it is often impossible to discover the cause of an anxiety, or even determine how long the anxiety has existed.
Fortunately, the brain is very good at learning and unlearning things. Every time the brain uses a connection, it also looks at whether that connection needs revision.
In other words: the unnecessary connection with the fear reflex (the connection in the brain that is the cause of the anxiety disorder) is not permanent. In fact, research has shown that every time such a connection becomes active – every time someone feels anxiety because of his or her specific phobia – the connection can in principle be revised.
How to cure an anxiety disorder
There are now several effective treatments to get rid of anxiety disorders. Below is a brief overview.
Memrec (Memory Reconsolidation, or “Memory Reconsolidation Intervention”)
Professor Dr. Merel Kindt and her teams at the Universities of Maastricht and Amsterdam (Clinical Psychology) developed an effective treatment method for specific phobias. She showed that someone with a phobia can be treated in such a way, that the brain can completely revise the unnecessary link with the fear reflex during the next sleeping period. As a result, the anxiety disorder completely and permanently disappears. Contact Kindt Clinics Amsterdam for more information.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing):
EMDR is a form of therapy in which feelings of anxiety are invoked every time, after which the unnecessary link with the fear reflex is attempted to weaken by ‘distracting’ the patient during the anxiety experience – for example with sound signals, movements, or touches.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known as “systematic desensitization” or “systematic exposure therapy” )
In cognitive behavioral therapy, the brain tries to convince step by step of weakening the unnecessary link with the fear reflex, by letting the client experience again and again that the fear is unfounded. In combination with techniques or medicines to preserve calm, the patient is ‘trained’ to deal with the subject of anxiety (eg spiders) more and more. The sessions are repeated until the patient is accustomed, or has become insensitive to anxiety.
Medication (suppression by antidepressants or beta-blockers)
In fighting anxiety disorders, medication is used mainly to strengthen another therapy, and sometimes also for relief, or to combat serious side effects of the anxiety disorder (such as suicidal tendencies).
For such purposes, medication can be effective, although there can be negative side effects.
Different treatment methods are offered that are not scientifically recognized, but that benefit some people. Always consult your doctor before using such therapies or drugs.