Social phobias and panic disorders are characterized as anxiety disorders. Those with social phobia suffer tremendous fear in social situations and will often go to extreme lengths to avoid situations where they are surrounded by other people. Panic disorders are accompanied by panic attacks that can last up to 30 minutes and occur without any specific trigger. This disorder causes overwhelming fear. It can create so much fear that those who have experienced an intense panic attack may be terrified to leave there homes. This is known as agoraphobia.
These disorders often first arise in teenagers and young adults. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and affect over 40 million people. Treatment for anxiety disorders also accounts for nearly one-third of the nation’s mental health bill, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Statistics reveal that those who suffer from social phobia and panic disorder are five times more likely to see a doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment than those without these anxiety disorders.
Causes and Symptoms of Social Phobia, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
The exact cause of social phobia, panic disorder and agoraphobia is unknown. However, it is believed that biological changes in the brain, genetics and stress contribute to these mental illnesses. In addition, traumatic life events such as rape, accident, childhood abuse and the death of a loved one can increase the risk of these anxiety disorders. The symptoms of social phobia and panic disorder are basically the same and may include:
- Shortness of breath and dry mouth
- Heart palpitations, racing pulse and chest pain
- Muscle tension, shaking and trembling
- Vomiting or nausea
- Inability to concentrate
- Blushing and dizziness
- Disturbance of regular sleep
- Hot flashes, sweating or chills
Treatment for Social Phobia, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
Treatment for these anxiety disorders includes behavior therapy, psychotherapy, relaxation methods and prescribed medications. Before a treatment plan is implemented, it is important that underlying physical problems are ruled out, such as thyroid and anemia. These are just two of the medical issues that can mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorders. It is also important for other mental health issues to be ruled out, such as bipolar, depression or schizophrenia. Sometimes, anxiety disorders are co-morbid and may be the result of another mental health problem.
Pharmaceutical drugs, such as tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medicines and anti-depressants, are often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, and most anxiety sufferers experience some relief within several weeks. However, Psych Central reports that most experts like the American Psychological Association agree patients should combine psychotherapy with the use of pharmaceuticals for long-term improvement. The two most popular forms of psychotherapy for anxiety disorder treatment are cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy.
Therapists who use cognitive therapy help patients re-adapt problematic thought patterns to healthier ones. Therapists help patients mentally visualize anxiety-inducing situations and help walk patients through them. With behavioral therapy, therapists help patients eliminate undesirable behaviors associated with anxiety, such as relaxation techniques to combat hyperventilation and other symptoms. There are also some therapists who use both behavioral and cognitive therapies. This type of therapy is known as CBT.
Another effective method to treat social phobia, panic disorder and agoraphobia is exposure with response prevention. This method involves a step-by-step process where patients are gradually exposed to the situation causing anxiety. For example, if one experiences anxiety while at a shopping mall, treatment would include short periods of shopping and increase in time length with subsequent visits. The success rate of psychotherapy varies, and it’s best for those with anxiety disorders to be open minded and try several types for the best outcome.