In this counseling answer:
• It is a treatable condition that responds favorably to counseling, cognitive-behavioral approaches, desensitization, medication (to correct faulty brain chemistry), stress reduction techniques and other methods.
• I also suggest that you in sha’ Allah continue with making du’aa’, reading Qur’an, and doing dhikr.
As-Salamu ‘Alaykum brother,
Mental illnesses are disorders that are part of a triage that comprises the mind, body, and spirit. For example, when someone gets a physical disorder such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, cancer, or any number of other illnesses, it can affect the mind, body, and spirit. The body is one with regard to the way it functions. If the body is sick, often the mind and spirit will also feel some type of ramification or inhibition. While some physical illnesses can be prevented through diet, exercise, and reducing stress, some can be genetic or biological, and there is no way to prevent them. The same goes for mental illnesses.
The MPA states that “The mind and body are closely linked, and their relationship can exert a positive influence on health and quality of life. Attitudes, beliefs and emotional states ranging from love and compassion to fear and anger can trigger chain reactions that affect blood chemistry, heart rate and the activity of every cell and organ in the body — from the stomach and digestive tract to the immune system. Emotions can also affect your body’s reaction to stresses and strains, which can cause head and backaches and other physical problems.”
So, as we can see, the inter-connectedness of the mind-body and spirit is an important concept to understand when examining any ailment. While one can have a strong spiritual foundation, it may not prevent them from getting cancer, bipolar illness, anxiety, depression, diabetes, lupus and so on. This is the fragile nature of our imperfect humanness -we are prone to certain illnesses. While it may not affect one’s spirituality in regards to faith, it is up to us to seek treatment and rebalance ourselves so that we may heal and live in harmony with all three components of our selves (mind, body, spirit) functioning in unity at an optimal level.
In regards to social anxiety, it is the most commonly diagnosed with the anxiety disorders. It may be caused by early life experiences such as a negative social experience; low self-esteem, being told repeatedly that one is inadequate as a human being, abuse, chronic stress and other environmental experiences. However, often social anxiety has biological causes as well.
As you spoke of the flight response, this is controlled by the adrenal and its hormones; the sympathetic nervous system and is often activated in emergency situations or when one suffers from anxiety or panic disorder. The NCBI points out that “Data from genetic and neuroimaging studies point towards a contribution of several neurotransmitter systems (i.e. norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin) to the pathophysiology of this disorder.”
Our brains can malfunction in the way neurotransmitters relate. There can be an excess or a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters which would, indeed, lead to mental illnesses such as social anxiety, depression, bipolar illness, OCD and other mental health issues.
In certain situations, when one is under prolonged intense stress, brain chemistry may change as well. UC Berkeley News Center states that the “University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that may explain why people suffering chronic stress are prone to mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life.”
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While I am not an Islamic scholar, I cannot answer your question from an Islamic viewpoint. However, based on psychological and neurobiological sciences and decades of studies done on various mental illnesses, it is safe to say that your social anxiety may be biologically based. Whether from chronic life experiences that slowly changed brain chemistry, or from other causes, social anxiety is “an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.”
However, it is a treatable condition that responds favorably to counseling, cognitive behavioral approaches, desensitization, medication (to correct faulty brain chemistry), stress reduction techniques and other methods.
Concerning Islamic methods, praying, making du’aa’, reading Qur’an, and doing dhikr all aid in healing as they bring us closer to Allah. In addition, they have to relax and de-stressing benefits for the mind, body, and spirit.
I suggest dear brother that you first seek counseling to address the root causes of your social anxiety (such as low self-esteem, any previous traumatic events, stress, etc.). Once you are engaged in counseling, the therapist will determine if you need medication based on a mental health assessment, historical events as well as an in-depth psycho-social assessment.
I also suggest that you in sha’ Allah continue with making du’aa’, reading Qur’an, and doing dhikr. This will provide a platform for your healing as well.
To clarify brother, the fact that you have social anxiety is no fault of your own. You are but one of the millions of people who happen to suffer from the disorder, for which alhumdulilah there is treatment!
We wish you the best. You are in our prayers.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.