Almost everyone gets nervous around other people from time to time. You may feel awkward around strangers or take some time to get comfortable at a party. But some people have social anxiety, which is more than butterflies that hit when you get around other people.
Imagine having a strong fear when you’re in social situations. Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, can be a debilitating disorder that makes you feel lonely, isolated and disconnected from others. It can even make it hard for you to leave your house, perform your job well, and manage your daily routine.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a mental condition that can make you extremely apprehensive during social interactions. The anxiety isn’t usually triggered by a rational event. For example, it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re meeting a group of strangers for the first time or speaking in front of a crowd. But someone with social anxiety might feel like this whenever they’re in a situation with other people even if they’re not among strangers or in the spotlight.
If you don’t have social anxiety, you can usually make it through the distress. You get sweaty palms, and you wipe them on your pants. You take some deep breaths and put on a smile. Your heart might race, but you manage.
People with social anxiety can’t do this. They might feel so uncomfortable that they can’t cope. They might have a panic attack or avoid social interactions altogether to keep from experiencing that discomfort.
Some of the situations that bring on social anxiety include:
- Walking into rooms full of people
- Talking to strangers
- Public speaking
- Using a public restroom
- Eating in front of people
- Going to work or school
- Ordering at restaurants
- Being in a crowd
- Making phone calls
Social anxiety manifests itself differently for everyone. You may have no problems with public speaking but can’t eat in front of other people. You may be fine at work but can’t walk into a party without panicking. Some people are uncomfortable in all social situations.
Social Anxiety Disorder vs. Shyness
Are you socially anxious? Or have you always just described yourself as shy?
Social anxiety disorder and shyness share some characteristics. In fact, people who are shy as children may be more likely to develop social anxiety when they get older.
But many people don’t realize that social anxiety disorder is different than shyness, and they don’t seek treatment. Understanding the signs and symptoms can help you access treatment if you need it.
The main difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder is that people with social anxiety experience symptoms at a much more intense level than those who struggle with shyness. Social anxiety ramps up your avoidance of social situations and can be more destructive to your life than shyness.
People who have social anxiety may realize that their fears are irrational. But they feel completely out of control when they’re faced with the discomfort that social situations bring. They’re not just introverts. They can’t switch their desire to be around people on and off as they please.
Many people with social anxiety experience one of the following emotions when they’re around others:
- Fear of being judged
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Worry about offending people
- Discomfort with being the center of attention
- Expecting the worst to happen when in a social situation
These signs and symptoms are intense. While nobody likes being judged or embarrassed, people with social anxiety feel extreme fear surrounding these emotions.
Those powerful emotions can leak into everything in your life. The anxiety can make it difficult for you to work or interact with your kids. Ruminating over a social event that already happened, or those that are yet to come, can prevent you from living in the present and taking care of your obligations.
Sometimes, social anxiety makes your mind feel blank. You can’t come up with anything interesting to say, and you might even have trouble telling someone what your name is. When you feel this way regularly, it can be hard to function.
Untreated social phobia can seriously interfere with your quality of life. You might feel anxious in every social situation, or the symptoms might flare up periodically. However social phobia feels for you, it’s exhausting and lonely.
Signs and symptoms of social phobia aren’t limited to what goes on in your head. Social phobia can bring on physical symptoms that make you feel sick or unable to function.
Some of the physical symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle tension
These symptoms may come on before, during, and after a social situation. You might spend the weeks before the interaction worrying about it. While you’re there, you may feel panicked and anxious. Afterward, you could have intrusive thoughts about how you acted. You probably use up a lot of mental energy worrying about what people thought of you.
Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
Experts aren’t sure what causes social anxiety disorder. It may be hereditary. If someone in your family has it, you might be more likely to develop the mental health issue.
Social phobia may also be triggered by an overactive amygdala. This is the part of the brain that regulates your fear responses. For some people, the panicky feelings can be more intense than for others.
Abuse, bullying, and teasing may also elicit an anxious response. A child that is emotionally wounded by others may respond by isolating themselves. People who grew up with overbearing parents may also be more apt to develop social phobia. In other words, social trauma or inappropriateness can lead someone down the path toward social phobia.
Treatment depends on the person’s history. Digging into the potential causes of the social phobia may reveal some other areas to work on. For example, if you have a history of abuse, you can use various forms of therapy to process the trauma in a healthy way. Dealing with any underlying issues can help you ease your social phobia.
Social phobia can make you change your behavior. Do you refuse invitations to events so that you can avoid social interactions altogether? Do you drink or use drugs to dull the discomfort?
Therapy can help you work through any substance abuse issues so that you can get clear and move forward in a healthy way.
You can free yourself from the fear that comes with social anxiety. At the Beverly Hills Therapy Group, we understand what you’re going through, and we have experience treating social anxiety. You don’t have to keep suffering or resign yourself to anxiety as part of your personality. If you’re looking for a therapist in Beverly Hills, we can help you uncover your confidence and comfort in social situations.