Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by the fear of being embarrassed, judged negatively or evaluated by other people in a social setting. A person with this disorder experiences physical symptoms of anxiety when he is in a social situation even though he may be perfectly calm and normal in the privacy of his home.
As a result of these symptoms, such people tend to avoid social situations at all costs and this can lead to severe impairment of social, interpersonal and occupational life. Forcing such people to be sociable can cause the onset of a panic attack and such harsh measures should be avoided at all times.
As per The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (1198:59, Supplement 17, 4:9), there are two kinds of social anxiety disorders. These are generalized social anxiety disorder and specific social anxiety disorder.
In case of a generalized social anxiety disorder, the person affected avoids all kinds of social interactions whereas in the case of a specific social anxiety disorder only a few situations that cause anxiety are avoided. Given that 40 percent of those who develop a social anxiety disorder start exhibiting symptoms of the condition before the age of ten and 95% by the age of twenty, it is important for parents to keep a look out of symptoms that may give warning signs of things to come.
This however does not mean that general shyness should be mistaken for a social disorder. Many children are shy but grow out of their shyness as they reach their teens. The symptoms of social anxiety disorder are excessive avoidance of any or a specific kind of social situation, feeling extremely self-conscious in public accompanied by a lack of self-worth and a strong escape instinct in social settings.
People with this disorder tend to avoid being introduced to new people, cannot take a joke on themselves, do not like to be the center of attraction in a party and at times avoid parties and gatherings. They become embarrassed easily and avoid meeting people's eyes and are shifty and uneasy in the presence of strangers. In case you feel that you or someone whom you know shows these symptoms of a social disorder, then there are ways and means of seeking social anxiety relief.
You could go in for Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) that is based on the premise that your own thoughts are the cause of the disorder and are not triggered off by the behavior of other people. Those who practice this therapy can help in identifying the situations that cause anxiety, arrive at the underlying reasons for the social anxiety and use techniques like role playing and social skill training to overcome these barriers.
Exposure Therapy is another means of providing anxiety relief. This involves a controlled and safe exposure to anxiety causing situations. Sometimes uneasy situations are created in comfortable settings and repeated exposure to such a setting can lead to a situation where one can handle that situation by oneself without experiencing a panic attack.
Medications like antidepressants and beta-blockers can also be used in extreme cases but should be used only as the last resort. In fact, the panic attack treatments that are gaining prominence are natural treatments for anxiety and include herbal remedies and techniques like slow breathing and positive self-talk.
You can also look for support groups who undergo similar issues while facing similar situations on the Internet and open up to them. One can obtain great ideas on how to handle various situations just by talking to other people who empathize with your situation.