Many people consider themselves shy because they avoid meeting new people or are extremely afraid of being observed and judged by others, what many of them don’t know is that they might really suffer from a disorder called Social Anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a common type of disorder characterized for the presence of anxiety or fear in situations that involve taking action in front of other people (usually unknow people), such as answering a question in class, meeting new people, or talking with a worker in a store. In this kind of situations, people with social anxiety can’t avoid feeling that he/she will be humiliated, judged or even rejected by others.
In some people, this disorder is so severe that they are also afraid of just eating or drinking in front of others.
Social anxiety usually starts during youth (around 13 years of age) and the most affected people are those who we consider (or consider themselves) extremely shy. This disorder is more common than many people think. In fact, according to a study, around 7% of Americans are affected by it.
How can I know if I suffer from Social Anxiety?
Only a qualified mind health professional can diagnose you with Social Anxiety. But, in general terms, if you are unable to control your anxiety feelings during common social situations, and the anxiety feelings affect your daily activities for more than 6 months, then you might suffer from this disorder.
Another important symptom of social anxiety is that you may be worried about those social situations even weeks before they happen. So, you might avoid them, especially if you believe that you might be the center of attention of an embarrassing situation.
Without a proper treatment, social anxiety disorder can affect your entire lifetime and even affect your job performance.
What are the signs and symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
People with social anxiety disorder experience the following symptoms while carrying out an activity in front of other people. However, it is important to say that people with severe social anxiety can also experience these symptoms just by thinking about those social situations.
Among the most common symptoms, the following can be included:
- Blush, tremble, and tachycardia
- Nausea or stomach discomfort (including stomachache)
- Feeling of “mind going blank”
- Adopting stiff postures, denoting discomfort, avoiding eye contact, overly soft voice
- Difficulty and panic to talk with unknown people (even when they wish they could)
- Feeling constant self-conscious or awkwardness when in front of other people
- Staying away from places with many people or trying to blend into the background
- Worrying that other people might notice that you’re stressed or nervous
What causes social anxiety disorder?
Some experts have proposed that social anxiety disorder has a genetic predisposition. However, not all the members of the family develop it.
Other researchers have shown that many parts of the brain are involved in the feelings of fear and anxiety. This, associated with a misinterpretation of other people behavior, is a fundamental piece in the development or worsening of social anxiety. This is because you might think that the other person is judging or mocking you when it is not true.
Likewise, if your skills to socialize are underdeveloped, you can increase your social anxiety symptoms because you might feel that you don’t know how to interact with others, so you will be ashamed or worried while and after talking to other people and, in consequence, you will avoid doing it in the future.
How is social anxiety disorder treated?
In the first place, you must be diagnosed by a professional. The most common treatment is psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
With this therapy you can learn different ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to those situations that make you feel anxious or fearful. Likewise, you can learn or practice some social skills that will make you feel more confident when interacting with others.
Being part of support groups is also important. When you talk with other people who experience the same feelings, you can be more sincere and receive honest feedback from others.
When these therapies are not enough, the doctor might prescribe some medication like anti-anxiety, antidepressants or beta-blockers.
However, there are alternative methods such as meditation, exposure therapy, and elongated cardiovascular activity. There have even been studies done with scalp acupuncture such as this one conducted in 2014 found here.
Is there anything that can make my social anxiety worse?
Until now, psychiatrists only diagnosed social anxiety to people who did not have any other disease or condition that could “justify it”. However, in the last years, a group of experts have performed certain studies in order to demonstrate that people with certain characteristics, like stammering and obesity, might suffer from social anxiety related or not to their medical condition.
In fact, these studies have showed that people with obesity and social anxiety have greater levels of disruption and distress in their social life that no-obese people with social anxiety.
This is very important because other studies have showed that people with obesity and social anxiety have a greater risk for elevated inflammation and insulin resistance than those who are obese but not socially anxious. In other terms, combining social anxiety and obesity is very stressful and might have many consequences on the body.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. 2016. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/19-mh-8083-socialanxietydisordermorethanjustshyness_153750.pdf
- Healthline. Social Anxiety Disorder. 2020. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/social-phobia#treatment
- Lifespan – Science Daily. Obese people can suffer from social anxiety disorder due to weight alone. 2001. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/social-phobia#treatment
- Lisa M. Jaremkaa, Carly R. Pacanowskib. Social anxiety symptoms moderate the link between obesity and metabolic function. Psychoneuroendocrinology. ELSEVIER. 2019. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31542635/