Reviewed by Melinda Ratini on April 23, 2012

Sources

Anxiety Disorder Association of America, John Lochridge, MD-Psychiatrist, Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Psychiatric Association

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Video Transcript

Becky Bruno : I was just terrified because I wanted to get along with people but I didn't even know where to start.

Stephanie Bruno : I thought 'no biggie' she's just a little bit shy

Narrator: But Becky Bruno wasn't just a little shy—she struggled for years with Social Anxiety Disorder before being diagnosed. Just as the name implies, the condition can socially cripple an otherwise healthy and intelligent person.

Becky Bruno: I would retreat to a bathroom in this building I knew people wouldn't go in during lunch and I would lock myself in a stall and cry a lot of the time

Narrator: By some estimates over five million people suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. Some don't even know it—not realizing their social discomfort can be helped.

John Lochridge, MD: They get kind of paralized and tunnel vision and they can't think of things to say. I suppose you can call that shyness the worse it gets the more it's like a social anxity disorder.

Narrator: Symptoms may include nausea, sweating, dizziness and a rapid heartbeat. Some even go into a panic when in a large group of people. Because of these reactions, those with social anxiety disorder tend to shy away from social situations. Becky dealt with her isolation by tending to her pets and by writing her feelings down in a journal:

Becky Bruno: I felt like I was on stage…Like people were watching me, and they just had like pre-notions to not accept me.

: (Rooster crowing)

Narrator: Eventually Becky's fears became so debilitating that her mother got her professional help. After being diagnosed, she was put on an anti-anxiety drug—a critical component in helping sufferers break their cycle of social paranoia.

John Lochridge, MD: So that we arrive at the party in a calmer way and then we're probably much more likely to be successful at the party in being social.

Narrator: But medication alone is normally not enough. A comprehensive treatment also involves what is called, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where a patient is lead to confront their fears in a controlled setting

Becky Bruno : Suddenly I wasn't afraid to start talking to people.

Narrator: These days Becky is less interested in what others might think of her and enjoys spending time with friends of her own choosing—even in a crowd… For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.