Many people experience shyness but some people are so fearful of social situations that it impairs the quality of their lives. These people have social anxiety disorder, which is defined by the National Institute of Health as overwhelming and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social or performance situations. Based on some research in my practicing field of psychology, social anxiety disorder often develops in early childhood.
Some children are born at risk of anxiety. Only a subset of these children actually develop anxiety. I study why this minority stays anxious. I look at their genetics, their social interactions and their temperament. I also focus on attention bias to threat which is a tendency to notice and process things that are potentially threatening.
One trait that I examine is called behavioral inhibition which is the tendency to display signs of fear and wariness in response to unfamiliar stimuli which can also lead to fear of social circumstances, isolation and clinical levels of anxiety. This is a trait that can be identified as early as 4 months old.
Every now and then I am able to get a picture of what is actually happening. Whether it's a piece of data or brain image or a video that captures the essence of what I have been studying; I am able to get this little glimpse. It's one of those most magical things that science can do.
In all, understanding each individual, meeting their health needs and providing that safe space for them is crucial to wellness. This is the start to changing lives.