Social anxiety is also known as social phobia. Simply put, it is fear of social situations. It is also described as fear of interacting with people other than close friends and family. Social anxiety can be persistent. It affects daily life for many people.
Social anxiety is the third largest mental health issue in the world. It affects nearly 7% of the population. Almost 13% of people will experience social anxiety at some point in their life. The condition is treatable. But it does not typically resolve without treatment. Certain situations may trigger social anxiety. These can include:
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- Job interviews
- Business meetings
- Public speaking
Some people also have difficulty in other situations. These could be meeting with an authority figure or reading aloud in class.
Most people feel anxiety during social interaction at some point. Nearly everyone may worry about what others think of them and whether others like them. But sometimes this anxiety is severe and persistent. When it is, social interaction can become difficult and unpleasant. People may have a hard time connecting with others. This difficulty can occur despite the person's wish to connect.
There are two types of social anxiety: generalized and non-generalized.
- A person with generalized social anxiety may avoid most social situations. Their fear of negative judgment can make most social interaction difficult.
- Non-generalized social anxiety does not cause anxiety all of the time. Instead, a certain type of social situation triggers the anxiety. A couple triggers could include going to a party or meeting a date.
Agoraphobia is a phobia linked to anxiety. It is thought to be similar to social anxiety. But a person with agoraphobia fears large or unknown public places. They may avoid these places out of worry that a panic attack may occur. The phobia is linked to avoidance of shame and embarrassment. It is typically not a social phobia.
Social anxiety is often more than a fear of interacting with others. People with social anxiety tend to worry that others will judge them negatively. The condition may be mild. When severe, it can have a large negative impact on one's quality of life.
Social anxiety can cause physical symptoms. A person experiencing social anxiety may have:
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
Anxious thoughts are also common. These can include thoughts like, "No one will like me," or "I don't belong." Those with social anxiety might also:
- Apologize often
- Seek frequent reassurance from others
- Spend a lot of time preparing for social situations
- Avoid entering social situations
- Leave situations abruptly
People with social anxiety often want to enjoy socializing. They may wish to make friends and be included in group activities. But their anxiety can prevent them from doing so. It may make them look withdrawn or shy. People with social anxiety may seem uninterested in social activities.
People with social anxiety may put much of their energy into avoiding triggers. Some ways they do this include:
- Using alcohol to cope in social situations
- Finding excuses to leave the situation, like going to the bathroom
- Keeping a conversation focused toward the other person
- Trying not to draw attention. They may avoid smiling or eye contact.
- Not contributing to a conversation or saying little
- Distracting oneself by daydreaming or mentally leaving the situation
- Brain. Studies show some parts of the brain are more active in people with social anxiety. One of these parts is the amygdala.
- Life experience. Certain situations can make people feel different, inadequate, or judged. People who experience these often may be more likely to develop social anxiety.
- Genes. Some people have a family history of anxiety. They may be more likely to develop social anxiety. They may also be more likely to develop another form of anxiety.
Some people experience consistent negativity in social situations. They can come to think that all social situations will happen in the same way. They may start to avoid and fear them as a result. Social anxiety can also grow out of beliefs from childhood. These beliefs may have caused feelings of incompetence, worthlessness, disempowerment, or shame.
Therapy can help with social anxiety. There are many treatments to choose from. It is important to seek help if social anxiety interferes with your life. Long-term social anxiety may cause more mental health issues. These can include loneliness and depression.
With the right treatment, people are often able to greatly reduce their social anxiety. Treatment may give people more confidence in their social skills. This can help increase their quality of life.
- Richards, T. (n.d.). Social anxiety fact sheet: What is social anxiety disorder? Symptoms, treatment, prevalence, medications, insight, prognosis. Retrieved from http://socialphobia.org/social-anxiety-disorder-definition-symptoms-treatment-therapy-medications-insight-prognosis
- Self-help strategies for social anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/adult_hmsocial.pdf