Individuals with social anxiety disorder experience extreme fear and discomfort over being publicly humiliated or judged by others. It affects people of all ages and symptoms can be range from relatively mild to extremely disabling. Individuals experiencing extreme social anxiety may underachieve to avoid attention from their teachers or boss or they may be unable to perform basic tasks, such as using a public restroom or making purchases at a grocery store.
The causes of social anxiety are disputed, though there is some research implicating both genetics and low self-esteem. Biologically, social anxiety is linked with a serotonin imbalance. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which helps regulate basic body functions—sleep, mood, memory, etc.—and an imbalance can change the way a body reacts to certain circumstances.
Social anxiety affects physical and mental behavior, including behavior and cognition. Signs of the condition include:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty speaking
- Fear that others will notice your symptoms
- Avoiding interactions with strangers or initiating conversations
- Anxiety hindering your ability to function at work or school
It is important that social anxiety disorder not be mistaken for shyness, which on its own does not cause the same extreme reactions as social anxiety. Social anxiety can also lead to other psychological impairments, particularly phobias of specific social situations or depression.
Typically, social anxiety is diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist after conducting a basic evaluation. There is no method of preventing social anxiety, but treatments are available that allow people with the condition to lead normal lives. Treatment can involve medication—Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, beta-blockers, or Benzodiazepines, for example—or cognitive behavior therapies to manage stress and encourage rational reactions to social situations.
If social anxiety is keeping you from working and leading a normal, healthy lifestyle, you may be able to receive Social Security Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help you manage your daily activities. Since diagnosis is difficult and the variability of the disorder is so high, you will need to have extensive medical evidence and detailed accounts of your daily life in order to qualify for disability.
Social Anxiety is evaluated by the SSA in the Blue Book under section 12.06—Anxiety-related Mental Disorders. To qualify under this listing, you must provide medical evidence of persistent anxiety accompanied by three out of the following:
- Motor tension
- Autonomic hyperactivity
- Apprehensive expectation
- Vigilance and scanning
Otherwise, you must demonstrate a persistent irrational fear of a specific object situation resulting in avoidance of those circumstances, severe panic attacks at least once a week, obsessions or compulsions which cause distress, or repeated recollections of a traumatic experience. Additionally, the Blue Book requires either a complete inability to function independently outside of one's home due to anxiety or at least two of the following:
- Marked restriction of activities of daily living
- Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning
- Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace
- Repeated episodes of decompensation
If you are unable to meet the Blue Book listing for anxiety-related disorders, you may also qualify through any listings associated with your symptoms, as long as they keep you from being able to work and earn a living.
Your Social Anxiety Disability Case
Securing benefits with social anxiety can be difficult because there is no definitive test for social anxiety and the diagnosis is hard to confirm. Beyond that, the application takes months to complete and most initial applications are denied. But that does not mean you should give up or avoid applying, as these benefits can be incredibly helpful in helping to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
A Social Security Disability attorney can help you manage some of the difficulties associated with the application. They are very familiar with the application process and are proven to help increase your likelihood of qualifying. These attorneys will walk you through each step and present your claim to the SSA for you. Many of these attorneys will work for reduced rates or provide free consultations. Seek one out if you think you may struggle with the application. For a free legal evaluation, click here.