Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas: A social anxiety minefield


A social anxiety minefield

Woman looking stressed in front of Christmas tree
As Christmas approaches, many people will be experiencing a mixture of excitement and trepidation. But for many sufferers of social anxiety, this can be the most traumatic time of the year, writes Olly Ricketts.
It is estimated that social anxiety disorder affects up to 10% of the UK's population.
The first clinical guideline on the subject, published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence(NICE) in May, defines the disorder as the "persistent fear of or anxiety about one or more social or performance situations that is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the situation".
The festive period provides a unique combination of such situations. While a degree of worry about finances, potential drunken mistakes and the awkwardness of spending time with extended family is entirely rational, sufferers of social anxiety can obsess about such issues until they prove debilitating.
Physical symptoms include blushing, excessive sweating and shortness of breath, but the most incapacitating effects are caused by sufferers' fixation on their perceived social inadequacies. Potentially stressful events consume thoughts for months beforehand, and the often imagined disaster is analysed at great length afterwards.
A perceived threat can be triggered by anything from meeting new people to being watched while eating.