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Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Understanding Symptoms - Social Anxiety?


Hello, I am currently a university student and have been suffering overwhelming feelings when in loud social situations. I have always been uncomfortable in crowds but recently have gotten supper jumpy and scatter  minded in any social situation and just this week had an attack like experience (felt dizzy, head-ache, blurred vision, trouble breathing - only lasted 30ish seconds till I managed to focus on a single person and moved to a new position in my seat). I also 6 months ago had another experience but broke down crying in public without actually being aware I was upset and also broke out into a full body cold sweat. I believe I should contact my GP but would like to have more understanding of my symptoms to explain to the doctor and get proper treatment.

The issue, Karyn, is not how to understand or even name your symptoms (unless you're researching the topic), but how to learn to deal with them. From what you say, it's one of the more common forms of anxiety, which means that mental-health professionals are well equipped to help effectively.

So how do you get into the right hands?  Not simple because the best treatment for most sufferers is twofold: anti-anxiety medication and psychotherapy.

The medication has to be prescribed by an MD. The best would be a psychiatrist because there are several pharmaceutical types to choose from, optimal response can take some time, and an intelligent and aware patient can try different doses. But these specialists are busy, although a single visit may suffice. Your GP could handle it, and in any case you'd need that doctor's referral to see a psychiatrist, so it does sound like a place to start.

"Psychotherapy" sounds like something is done to you, but it just means talking. Any physician can do this, but a practitioner with good training and more availability would be a clinical psychologist. I think you'd have to pay for the time (whereas MDs would be covered) -- unless you or your parents have insurance. Expect it to take a number of visits but they don't charge much.

There's yet a further option.  Your reaction is so common and typical, especially under the stress of the school environment, that every university I'm aware of has something called Student Services or somesuch, with no-charge counsellors on hand, who have heard this all before and know how to help. There may be a psychologist among them, or at least a referral system. So a visit here might be worth it. Don't feel shy -- your fees pay for this service.


I'm glad you asked us and hope my comments will prove helpful. All the best to you, and feel free to send a follow-up if you have one.


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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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