Social anxiety disorder tends to be downplayed as shyness or misunderstood as a behavioral problem. Social anxiety disorder is chronic fear of being judged or scrutinized by others. It can be debilitating and isolating if not treated on time. It is also known as social phobia, and it can limit a person’s interaction with others. The person who suffers from social anxiety may understand that their fear may be irrational but they may not know how to overcome it.
Social anxiety usually starts in childhood but can last up until late adulthood if there is no treatment or support. Many may confuse feeling regular anxiety or jitters when faced with certain social settings (Ex. Presenting in front of class, meeting someone new), with an unshakable sense of dread or feeling physically paralyzed when interacting in normal day to day settings (Ex. Turning down a job because it involves public speaking). There is a clear difference between feeling stressed in new social settings and being overcome with fear over having to go to parties. The former option, I believe, we all have gone through it and have found a way to overcome it. The latter option, however, is experienced by many others who may have missed many opportunities to share and connect because they are psychologically incapable of doing so on their own.
Some of the symptoms people with social anxiety disorder may feel when having to perform or socialize are:
- “Blush, sweat, tremble, feel a rapid heart rate, or feel their “mind going blank”
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
- Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
- Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
- Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
- Be very afraid that other people will judge them
- Stay away from places where there are other people”
In their article, National Survey Dispels Notion that Social Phobia is the Same as Shyness, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers scientific evidence regarding the false notion that social anxiety disorder is the same as being shy. NIMM also offers more information on what it feels like to have Social Anxiety Disorder, how to treat it and what causes it. For more in depth information regarding Social Anxiety Disorder please visit The Social Anxiety Association. They are a nonprofit organization that promotes wellness and support regarding social anxiety disorder. The Social Anxiety Institute also offers helpful information regarding treatment, personal experiences and support.
As for coping skills and self-help information, you can surf the internet and find options that can help for you. The first step, as always, is learning more about social anxiety disorder and what it entails. The Anxiety and Depression Association have created an informative and helpful brochure about information on social anxiety disorder. The second step is to get to know yourself and your social anxiety disorder. Even though others may experience a similar illness, everyone is unique and stressors might vary from one person to another. Anxiety BC offers a 9 page brochure about Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety. The brochure focuses on how to build up resources for living with social anxiety.
Finally, the most important step, is to seek out professional help. Learning how to help yourself is necessary but having a trained professional to guide your recovery is very important. You are never alone when you have support. Care for yourself and fight for your future.