People often tell their friends with social anxiety that they must overcome their fears because they have nothing to worry about. While this may be objectively true, it probably will not help them get out of their heads or leave the house.
The world has no shortage of misconceptions about people with social anxiety. People may think they are shy daughters, attention or common introverts. But social anxiety is not the same thing as shyness. Nor is it something a person can turn on or off at will. And it's certainly not some kind of selfish failing character.
Social Anxiety Disorder affects much more than how often a person wants to go out for a night on the town. This mental illness permeates the entire life of a person, causing difficulty with work, dating and even common tasks. If the affected could "just get over it," they would do it in a heartbeat.
The debilitating and private nature of social anxiety means that it is very difficult to understand unless you have experienced it. Even so, learning about this specific mental illness and its manifestations can help you find common ground with others whether you suffer from the disorder or not.
Let's take a look at what social anxiety looks like and feels.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a chronic mental health condition that causes intense and irrational fear and anxiety in social situations. This can cause patients to avoid situations such as work or parties due to fear of being constrained or judged, and may even prevent people from pursuing their goals and aspirations.
The disorder may be general or specific. People with general social anxiety feel uncomfortable in almost every social situation, from making a speech to standing in line at the supermarket. People with more specific social phobias, on the other hand, may get nervous only in certain situations, such as when making a phone call or sending an email.
Unlike standard shyness or introversion, social anxiety disorder interferes with everyday life. It prevents people from doing things they otherwise enjoy and is sometimes correlated with poor performance at work or school, as it is difficult to participate in the best way possible when you are constantly concerned about the judgment of others.
It is clear that social anxiety negatively affects a person's quality of life if it is not treated. Despite the serious nature, social anxiety is not as uncommon as people sometimes think. In the United States, SAD affects 6.8% of the population, about 15 million adults.
What are the symptoms?
All physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms accompany social anxiety.
In situations that trigger an anxiety response, individuals may experience physical symptoms such as tremors, flushing, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and nausea. Sometimes simply imagining a stressful situation is enough to make someone feel bad.
Emotional symptoms of social anxiety involve fear of being judged, fear of making a mistake or of being ashamed, fear of people looking at you and sometimes fear of certain situations such as asking at a restaurant or talking in front of a crowd.
Emotional and physical suffering often drives people to change their behavior. These behavioral symptoms are more easily recognized by others, although they are sometimes misunderstood. People with social anxiety can refuse invitations, cling to familiar people in group situations and go to extremes to avoid the things that cause them anxiety.
People with social anxiety may also develop unhealthy methods of dealing with discomfort. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to relax around other people. In fact, about 20% of people who suffer from social anxiety also develop alcohol abuse or dependence. While using drinks and drugs can relieve feelings of anxiety at the moment, they can become even bigger problems over time.
What is social anxiety?
Like all mental disorders, anxiety manifests differently in different people. Some people have very severe symptoms, while others may only notice their anxiety manifesting from time to time. It is impossible to make generalizations about people with social anxiety. However, it is fair to say that living with the disorder often seems lonely and exhausting.
Living with social anxiety never seems to be free from fear. It seems like you are on display and doomed to disappoint. For people who suffer from anxiety, no social interaction occurs smoothly enough to provide a break from ongoing self-criticism and concern.
For example, this is how social anxiety looks like. Looking at your phone trying to convince yourself to dial a number. Worried about the inconvenience of the store box when buying many items. Driving half way to a party and turning around. Calling patient to avoid a job presentation. Obsessing over time you've erred and wondering if your significant other is just staying because they pity you. And that's just a start.
This is not something to be ashamed of.
Not everyone understands how much anxiety really affects people. However, treatment and support are increasingly available. The most effective treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people to change negative thinking patterns and practice new behaviors in a safe environment. Working with a good therapist can help socially anxious people overcome their standards.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, seek the help of a doctor or mental health professional. Although social anxiety may never completely disappear, you can significantly decrease the symptoms and prevent it from stopping it.
Even if you have not experienced social anxiety, learning more can always help you to understand other people. So the next time you invite a socially anxious friend, remember how they may be feeling.
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