I have occasional days where it feels overwhelming to leave my house. I just want to have the quiet solitude of no interactions. This is a microcosm of the life of someone with social anxiety disorder. Although I do not suffer from social anxiety, it is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder. With the average age of onset being the early teenage years, it is a disorder that affects school, work, activities, and social interactions.
Social Anxiety is not shyness. It is an intense fear of being judged, rejected, or embarrassed in a social or performance situation. Symptoms may play havoc with daily routines, work performance, social life, and intimate life.
Social anxiety can be self-perpetuating. For individuals who suffer, avoidance of feared situations is common. The fear then becomes even more entrenched when exposure to anxiety provoking situations is limited. In my work. As part of the therapy process, I frequently meet people in various anxiety provoking settings.
- A very broad range of interactions can be fear provoking. These might include having to return an item to a store, talk to a server in a restaurant, say hello to a neighbor, or place an order in a fast food drive-through.
- Signs and symptoms experienced by individuals with social anxiety disorder may include blushing, sweating, racing heartbeat, shaking, avoiding eye contact, or feeling that their mind is going blank.
- Misreading the behavior of others is a common factor. They might think that another person is frowning at them, angry at them if they don’t return a hello in the hallway, or believe they are being stared at.
- Emotional distress may be experienced while being introduced to strangers, being teased or criticized, being the center of attention, having to speak in front of others, job interviews, group projects, meeting authority figures, or in classes or conferences that require social participation.
- “Just face your fears, and they will go away,” does not happen. Therapy includes insight, strategies, practice, exposure, and fine-tuning.
- Medication has been found to be very helpful, but is not the only solution. These may include antidepressants, beta blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.