Social Anxiety Damages Mental, Physical Health
> 7/12/2007 11:51:46 AM

Beyond breeding isolationist behavior and complicating comorbid cases of depression and related mental illness, chronic social anxiety disorder can contribute to such physical infirmities as heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, ultimately decreasing one's overall lifespan.

A Northwestern University study
tracking the health of 2,000 middle aged men over three decades found that those whose social dispositions leaned most heavily toward "shy" and "introverted" on preliminary psychological survey responses were at least 50% more likely to die of stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular disease (by study's end, a majority of its subjects were deceased). After controlling for various behavioral risk factors, researchers found that lifestyle elements such as physical inactivity, drinking or smoking could not explain these disparities. Unsurprisingly, researchers also found that those with "easy going" dispositions ran the lowest risk of succumbing to cardiovascular impairments. Unrelated studies have found that singles carry a higher risk of contracting heart disease than individuals who are married and/or regularly attend church services and social group meetings, leading to the general conclusion that longstanding perceptions of one's social inferiority can compound stresses and detrimentally effect physical health. Some even speculate that a genetic predisposition toward anxiety and self-doubt originates in the very part of the brain responsible for proper cardiovascular functions.

Chronic stress, regardless of its roots, will inevitably wear down not only one's emotional stability but the efficiency if the immune system and related physical variables. As in depression, those suffering from SAD generally have lower-than-normal amounts of the essential pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in their systems, hence displaying a far greater propensity toward Parkinson's disease, a nervous system disorder leading to crippling physical impairment. They also register increased brain activity and negative emotional responses when faced with even the remote possibility of rejection or judgement at the hands of others. The fact that this stress is so amplified in SAD individuals often leads to a greater likelihood that they will experience the very failure they so fear, thereby creating a recurring circle of negativity and isolation.

Social anxiety is the third most common psychiatric affliction behind depression and alcohol dependence. The line between being affected by this chronic disorder and merely feeling intimidated by new and challenging social situations is not always clear. Many therefore hesitate to seek treatment for what seems like such an abstract element of one's personality, but the hormonal imbalances central to the disorder can be effectively medicated, and those who suspect that they suffer from the debilitating effects of SAD should, at the very least, seek an outside opinion. Various online questionnaires may help one determine whether he or she should consider professional intervention, and those with even a passing interest would be well advised to fill one out. As the current study demonstrates, one's social skills are not the only matter at stake.

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