Do You Have Social Anxiety Disorder?
Below is an excerpt from my book, Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life. Although reading this and answering the questions is not a substitute for talking with a mental health professional, you’ll get an idea if social anxiety is an area of concern for you.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a universal experience – one that is necessary for survival. Perhaps it was easier to see it survival value in previous times, when people had to band together to hunt food, build shelter, and ward off enemies. Social anxiety serves the function of keeping people close to the “pack.“ To veer from the group was to risk death.
Even now, we’ve evolved in such a way that we are motivated to remain a part of the group. We want to be accepted. We want to fit in. Thus, some social anxiety is normal and beneficial. After all, people who never care about others opinions are often not very pleasant to be around and have a completely different set of problems.
Sometimes it’s easier to explain what social anxiety is when it’s described with some ordinary, everyday examples:
Embarrassment after spilling a drink
Stage fright before a big performance
Awkwardness while talking to someone you don’t know well
Nervousness during a job interview
Feeling jittery before giving a speech
These are common experiences almost everyone is had at one point or another.
Since it’s so universal, how can you tell when social anxiety becomes social anxiety disorder?
A person with social anxiety disorder will:
Show significant and persistent fear of social situations in which embarrassment or rejection may occur
Experience immediate anxiety-driven, physical reactions to feared social situations
Realize that his or her fears are greatly exaggerated, but feel powerless to do anything about them
Often avoid the dreaded social situation at any cost
People with social anxiety disorder are plagued with negative thoughts and doubts about themselves such as:
Do I look OK?
Am I dressed appropriately?
Will I know what to talk about?
Well I sound stupid, or boring?
What if other people don’t like me?
What if people notice I’m nervous?
What if people think I’m too quiet?
The fear of possible rejection or disapproval is formost in socially anxious peoples minds, and they scan for any signs that confirm their negative expectations.
Physical symptoms of social anxiety
Many people don’t realize that actual physical discomfort can accompany social anxiety. For example, someone may experience a panic attack in a social situation, in which they feel an acute and severe rush of fear and anxiety, accompanied by some or all of the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Tightness in the chest
Tingling or sensations of numbness
Nausea or diarrhea
Dizziness and shaking
Many people are misdiagnosed with panic disorder when, in fact, they have social anxiety disorder. The key to knowing which of the two is the real problem lies in understanding the root fear. In panic disorder, the person fears the panic attack itself. In the case of social anxiety disorder, the fear is centered around the possibility that people might witness the panic attack and the resulting humiliation that would occur. Keep in mind, some people may have both panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.
Not everyone with social anxiety experiences full-blown panic attacks, though. Instead, some people are extremely bothered by and focused on a particular physical aspect of their condition. The most common examples include blushing, sweating, and shaking.
Regardless of which particular physical symptoms someone experiences, anxiety is never pleasant. Having one’s body in a state of constant alert takes it’s toll and can lead to chronic fatigue, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
The toll of avoidance
It’s human nature to avoid suffering. From an evolutionary perspective, we are “hard-wired“ either to fight or flee from a dangerous situation. It’s no surprise then people with social anxiety disorder tend to avoid or painfully endure situations that they believe will cause them harm. This might mean never attending a party or going to a restaurant. It might mean having few, if any friends. It might mean never having an intimate relationship. It might mean dropping out of school or working at a job beneath one’s potential.
In all cases, though, people with social anxiety disorder limit their choices out of fear. Decisions in life are based upon what they’re comfortable with rather than what they might truly want to do.
You’re not alone: social anxiety affects millions of people
You may have thought that no one else shared your problem. But you are not alone. The most up-to-date information suggests that one and eight Americans will, at some point in his or her life, suffer from social anxiety disorder. This makes social anxiety disorder the third most common psychiatric disorder, after depression and alcoholism. Millions of people—from ten to 19 million depending on the particular survey cited – are affected by social anxiety.
The good news!
Now, more than ever, there are ways to minimize the harmful effects of unchecked social anxiety. You’ve taken an important step just by reading this information. Take a few moments and allow yourself to imagine a life free from the fear and anxiety you’ve grown so accustomed to. Imagine a life or you can do what you truly want to do, not only what you’re “comfortable” doing. Know that you’re in the right place – you can reclaim your life.
For more information about how Social Anxiety Disorder, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.
A good article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in St. Louis:
I’ve written 3 books on social anxiety disorder, which you can find under the Books tab.
LOCAL TREATMENT FOR social anxiety disorder IN ST. LOUIS, MO WITH PSYCHOLOGIST, BARBARA MARKWAY, PH.D.
Don’t suffer in silence. Call 314-756-5155 for specialized, confidential and effective treatment for social anxiety.