- Social anxiety disorder begins in the childhood or adolescence
- Brain of socially anxious adolescents showed increased activity in the amygdala (brain area concerned with emotions)
- Social phobia behavior produced inhibition of motor areas of the brain
In teenagers, response to anxiety may include not only the parts of the brain which deal with emotions, but it also includes the movement control centers of the brain.
The movement control centers are associated with the movement inhibition when stressed ("freezing").
Research team comprising of Italian and Canadian researchers tested 150 children at the ages of 8/9, for signs of social inhibition. Some of the children who took part in the study were shown to have
- Early signs of social anxiety
- Increased tendency to withdraw from social situations
- Difficulty in recognizing emotions, particularly angry faces
The study participants (anxious children and controls) were followed into adolescence. They were tested again for the signs of social anxiety at the ages of 14-15 years.
‘Anxiety behavior can produce a response in brain areas concerned with movement. This maybe the reason why some of us ‘freeze’ in a socially challenging or awkward situation.’
Functional MRI (fMRI)
brain scans that were used to test the brains of the teenagers response to angry facial expressions.
As lead researcher, Laura Muzzarelli said: "We found that when presented with an angry face the brain of socially anxious adolescents showed increased activity in the amygdala, which is the brain area concerned with emotions, memory and how we respond to threats. Surprisingly, we also found this produced inhibition of some motor areas of the brain, the premotor cortex. This is an area which 'prepares the body for action', and for specific movements. This is the first hard proof that strong emotions produce a response in brain areas concerned with movement. Adolescents who don't show social anxiety tend not to show the inhibition in the movement centers. We don't yet know how this inhibition feeds into movement - it may be that this has something to do with why we sometimes 'freeze' when we are frightened or under strong emotional stress, this still has to be tested.
We need to acknowledge that there are some limitations to this work. We started this 6-year study with 150 children, but by the time we reached adolescence we had narrowed down the field to just 5 children with social anxiety, and 5 with less severe (subthreshold) social anxiety, so it's a small sample".
The study is presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Social anxiety or social phobia is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive fear of social interaction and avoidance of the judgment of others. In early stages, social anxiety can be mistaken for shyness. Social phobia runs in the families.
Study published in Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 2016
reveals a possible relationship between social anxiety and disassociation.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social phobia
tend to be
- Self conscious in front of other people
- Be very afraid that other people would judge them
- Stay away from social gatherings
- Have a hard time making friends
- Sweat or tremble in front of social gatherings or people
Social anxiety disorder treatment options include psychotherapy and antidepressants.
Social Anxiety Disorder - Facts and Figures
5 Simple Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
- About 15 million American adults have SAD
- Equally common among men and women
- 36% people with SAD report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help or treatment, 2007 ADAA survey.
- Challenge the negative thoughts: The first step is to identify the negative thoughts that underlie fear of social situations; next step is to analyze and challenge these negative thoughts.
- Focus on others and not yourself: When in a social situation that makes you nervous, try to switch from the internal source to the external source; focus your attention on other people and on the present moment
- Practice regular deep breathing exercises: Simple breathing exercises can help to stay calm in social situations
- Face the social situations that you fear: Avoidance keeps social phobia going. Learning to tolerate and address the feelings will help you feel better
- Volunteer doing something you enjoy: Take up a hobby that you enjoy or engage with like-minded people socially.