Social anxiety is one of the more common mental health conditions and much more common than many people realize. Some people think this mental health condition is just shyness in another person who is quiet or socially awkward. However, extreme shyness and excessive anxiety about social interactions are signs of social anxiety disorder. People often don't realize that they have a social anxiety disorder that can be easily addressed with the help of a therapist or by working individually to practice social skills and identify behavioral patterns that trigger a fear response in social situations.
Thankfully, social anxiety, also called social phobia, is becoming more understood and acknowledged in both society and the psychological community. As people become more aware of the signs and symptoms of social anxiety, more people may seek treatment, helping them overcome their anxiety in social situations and improve their personal relationships. Many people successfully treat social anxiety disorder and move on with their lives.
According to recent statistics, over 19 percent of the American adults each year experiences social anxiety that could be considered an anxiety disorder. But less than 40 percent seek treatment, even though treatment is highly successful. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders of all. About 50 percent of those people present signs of social anxiety by age 11, and 80 percent by age 20. If you have severe social anxiety, you should consider treatment, and even if you have relatively minor social anxiety disorder, talking to a professional can help with symptoms and reduce or eliminate panic attacks.
People developing social anxiety disorder often share certain risk factors, including environmental factors such as bullying during childhood and experiencing trauma or abuse and genetic factors such as an extremely withdrawn natural temperament.
The first step is being able to recognize the signs of social anxiety. If you have any of these signs and symptoms in social situations and everyday life or recognize them in your teenager, you should consider getting help. Social anxiety can have both emotional and physical signs present.
Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Social anxiety comes with a variety of emotional signs and symptoms. While physical symptoms may not always be present, there are always emotional and behavioral signs you have social anxiety. You may not have all of these signs, but if you have any social anxiety, you will likely recognize several of these symptoms.
Fear is the primary symptom of anxiety. An unrealistic and intense fear is the most common characterization of the social anxiety disorders and anxiety of any type. Social anxiety may bring fear that others may judge you. You may also have a fear that others will notice you are anxious and reject you because of it.
The social anxiety itself may cause additional fear. Because you are already anxious, you may be aware of the physical symptoms that you fear will be embarrassing, such as sweating or blushing. In these situations, the fear you have is feeding upon itself, and you enter a vicious cycle of intense fear and worry.
Worry is another primary symptom of social anxiety. You may have worries that you might do something to embarrass yourself. People with social anxiety frequently have worries about the worst thing that could happen that would cause embarrassment or humiliation. This worry can be debilitating, keeping you from being able to take any action in a social situation for fear that it will lead to embarrassment in some unknown way.
There are many things that you may avoid doing in public or social situations because of your social anxiety. You may avoid doing things or speaking to people because you are afraid that it will somehow lead to embarrassment. You may avoid situations in which you become the center of attention. You may even avoid going into the social situation at all just to avoid any potential embarrassment and keep from having to worry and feed your fears.
People with social anxiety often anticipate their anxiety before a social event or situation. You may spend hours or even days before a social event or situation thinking about your social anxiety and all of the ways that things could go wrong. Often this simply adds to your fears, giving you more to worry about and making the social situation that much more unbearable.
In addition to thinking about the social situation negatively beforehand, you may also ruminate on the social situation after it is over. You may find yourself going over the time spent in the social situation over and over again in your mind, thinking of all the things you could have done differently and trying to figure out if you did anything to embarrass yourself.
Expecting the Worst
Another common sign of social anxiety is expecting the worst. When you have social anxiety, you just assume that the worst is going to happen. You assume you will be rejected, or you assume that you will do or say something to embarrass yourself. You don't even give yourself a chance, you just automatically assume that it will be bad, which feeds into your anxiety even more.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety
There are also a lot of physical signs and symptoms of social anxiety that you may notice in the heat of the moment. These signs of social anxiety are usually prevalent when you are in social situations. You may not have all of these signs or symptoms, but some of them may be familiar to you.
Blushing is a common sign of social anxiety. As you become anxious and fear embarrassment, it increases your heart rate and your body temperature, which can cause you to blush and become red in the face. For many people, this simply adds to the social anxiety.
Fast Heart Rate
As mentioned, when you are anxious your heart rate will likely increase. This is due to the mind telling the body that you are in a fight or flight response. The increased heart rate might make you feel as though your heart is pounding in your chest.
It is common for people who are extremely anxious in social situations to tremble. You may have trembling hands, or you may feel as though you are shaking all over. Again, this can make you even more self-conscious simply making the social anxiety that much worse.
Many people also sweat when they are anxious. Sweating in a social situation can make you even more self-conscious and lend to making your social anxiety that much worse. If you know you are going to be in a social situation, you may find yourself putting on liberal amounts of deodorant and perfume or cologne.
Many people also feel nausea when they are anxious. As your body tenses and becomes stressed from the social anxiety, your body produces additional cortisol which leads to increased stomach acid.
Shortness of Breath
If you get severe social anxiety, you may find that you are short of breath. You may feel that it is difficult to breathe, or you may find yourself breathing rapidly. It is important that if you experience this physical symptom of social anxiety that you make a conscious effort to slow and regulate your breathing to prevent you from hyperventilating.
Dizziness or Lightheadedness
Dizziness or lightheadedness can also occur when you are in social situations if you have social anxiety. Often the dizziness and lightheadedness are caused by the shortness of breath and rapid heart rate. However, you may feel lightheaded even without those symptoms.
Mind blanking is a little-understood symptom that can happen in some situations. In social anxiety, it is common for the mind to seem to go completely blank when faced with fears. This could make it extremely difficult to follow or participate in a conversation, which can further increase the anxiety.
As your mind tells your body that you are in a fight or flight situation, your body will tense up. This can cause muscle tension, particularly in the shoulders and neck. When you have muscle tension, it can make you feel very uncomfortable or even cause pain, which can be further distracting and add to your anxiety.
Behavioral Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder
Not everyone who has problems in social situations has social anxiety. There is a difference between having nerves because you are speaking in public or going on a date and having social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by being unable to cope with certain situations and typically results in people avoiding these situations entirely.
Difficulty Interacting with Strangers
People with social anxiety disorder often find it difficult to interact with strangers. When a stranger tries to talk to them, they usually freeze up and seek out a quick escape. They may have difficulty dealing with cashiers, librarians, taxi drivers, and other strangers that people run into every day during normal daily activities.
Uncomfortable Attending Parties
People with a social anxiety disorder often find it difficult to attend parties or social gatherings of almost any kind. Even when those social gatherings are filled with people they know, such as friends and family, they may be unable to attend. The anxiety they feel before and during the event is simply more than they can bear, and they either escape quickly with a fumbled excuse or make an excuse not to go at all.
Difficulty Starting Conversations
Another thing that people with a social anxiety disorder find hard to do is start conversations. They may not be able to start conversations with anyone, even their friends or a family member. They may be able to participate in a conversation easily enough if it is with someone they know well, but unlikely they will be the first to say something.
Difficulty with Dating
One of the biggest problems that people with social anxiety disorder face is dating. Many people with social anxiety feel lonely and would like to have some company. However, their anxiety keeps them from being able to meet and talk to new people, making dating tough.
Signs of Severe Social Anxiety
Some people have more severe anxiety than others. There are some signs of severe social anxiety that may be present that will keep you from living your life fully. People who have severe social anxiety may not be able to leave their home but rarely, and they may not be able to work or go to school.
Unable to Go to Work or School
Severe social anxiety in the most extreme cases can prevent you from going to work or school. You may become so afraid of social interactions that you cannot bear to interact with coworkers, customers, students or teachers. When social anxiety is this severe, you should seek help right away.
Difficulty with Eye Contact
People with severe social anxiety may find it difficult to make eye contact with the people they are talking to. They are so anxious that they will look anywhere but at the person they are talking to. This can lead to additional anxiety and fear of rejection.
Difficulty with Public Restrooms
Some people with severe social anxiety find using public restrooms difficult, limiting how long they can be away from home. Severe social anxiety may keep you from being able to use the public restroom because you are so worried about running into other people while in the room, or other people being able to hear you use the restroom.
Difficulty Entering A Room
Many people with severe social anxiety are unable to enter a room full of people, particularly if those people are all seated. You may find yourself in the doorway of the room frozen and unable to move.
Difficulty Going to a Store
Some people with severe social anxiety are not able to do simple tasks such as going to the store and buying or returning something. If you have severe social anxiety, you may find that you are so anxious about talking to strangers that you cannot even talk to a cashier or customer service representative.
Ways To Treat Social Anxiety
You can treat social anxiety disorder, social phobia, and related mental health conditions using a various treatment options. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) are drugs often used to treat depression which are also used to treat social anxiety and other anxiety disorders. They can be extremely helpful for some people with anxiety disorder/social phobia diagnoses. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepine can also be useful for calming down the intense anxiety and persistent fear created by an overactive amygdala.
Other forms of non-medication therapy used to treat anxiety disorders include exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT.) Social anxiety disorder treated without anti-anxiety medications or other drugs can be just as successful as outcomes using medications for many people. For some people with substance abuse histories, a therapy like exposure or CBT can be the best option because some of the drugs used by doctors play a role in cases of substance abuse.
People with social anxiety disorder may also have physical health problems that contribute to their condition. For example, gut health is linked to mental wellbeing, and foods containing gut healthy bacteria called probiotics have been used to treat social and other types of anxiety. People with a social anxiety disorder may want to get a full physical exam to rule out or identify underlying health problems that could contribute to their symptoms.
If you have difficulty in social situations and think it might be more than just shyness, I consider contacting a therapist for help in sorting it out. There are a lot of advances in different types of psychotherapy that can be used to treat anxiety disorders effectively. With therapy and time, you may find yourself able to be in social situations that up until now you avoided.
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Other Commonly Asked Questions
What are 3 symptoms of social anxiety?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association, the top symptoms of social anxiety are fear in everyday situations with other people, excessive worry about embarrassment, and avoidance of social interactions that can trigger a fear response.
How do u know if you have social anxiety?
What things trigger social anxiety?
What does social anxiety physically feel like?
Do I have social anxiety or am I just shy?
Does social anxiety make you act weird?
Can you self diagnose social anxiety?
Why did I suddenly develop social anxiety?
How can I fix my social anxiety?
Is social anxiety curable?