We all know the feeling of being nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation. Maybe you’ve stifled up when meeting someone new or gotten sweaty palms before making a big presentation. Public speaking or walking into a roomful of strangers isn’t exactly thrilling for everybody, but most people can get through it.
If you have social anxiety disorder, though, the stress of these situations is too much to handle. You might avoid all social contact because things that other people consider “normal” — like making small talk and eye contact — make you so uncomfortable. All aspects of your life, not just the social, could start to fall apart.
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is one of the most common mental disorders, so if you have it, there’s hope. The tough part is being able to ask for help. Here’s how to know if your social silence has gone beyond shyness to a point where you need to see a doctor.
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life. It is chronic because it does not go away on its own. Only direct cognitive-behavioral therapy can change the brain, and help people overcome social anxiety.
People with social anxiety usually experience significant distress in the following situations:
Talking to strangers, Speaking in public, Dating, Making eye contact, Entering rooms, Using public restrooms, Going to parties, Eating in front of other people, Going to school or work, Starting conversations, Being introduced to other people, Being teased or criticized, Being the center of attention, Being watched or observed while doing something. Having to say something in a formal or public situation, Meeting people in authority (important people/authority figures), Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (I don’t know what to say), Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking) Meeting other peoples’ eyes, Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public.
This list is not a complete list of symptoms — other symptoms may be associated with social anxiety as well.
Some of these situations might not cause a problem for you. For example, giving a speech may be easy, but going to a party might be a nightmare. In addition, you could be great at one-on-one conversations but not at stepping into a crowded classroom.
All socially anxious people have different reasons for dreading certain situations. However, in general, it’s an overwhelming fear of: Being judged by others in social situations, Being embarrassed or humiliated — and showing it by blushing, sweating, or shaking, ·Accidentally offending someone, Being the center of attention
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?
Again, the experience may be different for everyone, but if you have social anxiety and you’re in a stressful situation, you might have physical symptoms like:
Rapid heartbeat, Muscle tension, Dizziness, Stomach trouble and diarrhea, Inability to catch breath “Out-of-body” sensation.
You may start having symptoms and getting anxious immediately before an event, or you might spend weeks worrying about it. Afterward, you could spend a lot of time and mental energy worrying about how you acted.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
There’s no one thing that causes social anxiety disorder. Genetics likely has something to do with it: If you have a family member with social phobia, you’re more at risk of having it, too. It could also be linked to having an overactive amygdala — the part of the brain that controls your fear response.
Social anxiety disorder usually comes on at around 13 years of age. It can be linked to a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. Shy kids are also more likely to become socially anxious adults, as are children with domineeringor controlling parents. If you develop a health condition that draws attention to your appearance or voice, that could trigger social anxiety as well.
The feelings that accompany social anxiety include anxiety, high levels of fear, nervousness, automatic negative emotional cycles, racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, and muscle twitches. In severe situations, people can develop a dysmorphia concerning part of their body (usually the face) in which they perceive themselves irrationally and negatively. Constant, intense anxiety (fear) is the most common symptom.
People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested.
Ironically, people with social anxiety want to make friends, be included in groups, and be involved and engaged in social interactions. But having social anxiety prevents people from being able to do the things they want to do. Although people with social anxiety want to be friendly, open, and sociable, it is fear (anxiety) that holds them back.
HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR LIFE
Social anxiety disorder prevents you from living your life. You’ll avoid situations that most people consider “normal.” You might even have a hard time understanding how others can handle them so easily.
When you avoid all or most social situations, it affects your personal relationships. It can also lead to:
Low self-esteem, Negative thoughts, Depression, Sensitivity to criticism, Poor social skills that don’t improve.
People with social anxiety typically know that their anxiety is irrational, is not based on fact, and does not make rational sense. Nevertheless, thoughts and feelings of anxiety persist and are chronic (i.e., show no signs of going away). Appropriate active, structured, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the only solution to this problem. Decades of research have concluded that this type of therapy is the only way to change the neural pathways in the brain permanently. This means that a permanent change is possible for everyone.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety has been markedly successful. Thousands of research studies now indicate that, after the completion of social anxiety-specific CBT, people with social anxiety disorder are changed. They now live a life that is no longer controlled by fear and anxiety. Appropriate therapy is markedly successful in changing people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behavior. The person with social anxiety disorder must be compliant and do what is necessary to overcome this disorder.
Take Care of Yourself and Each Other!