Social Anxiety Misconceptions
Today I thought I would dispel some of the common myths about social anxiety. Social anxiety tends to be largely misunderstood, which is why most of these myths are perpetuated. In fact, even some mental health professionals don’t understand social anxiety all that well, which is why it’s important if you are looking for help, to find someone who understands this specific problem.
So what is social anxiety exactly? It’s the feeling that you are always being judged and evaluated by other people when you are in social or performance situations (regardless of whether it’s actually happening or not).
In other words, you think people are pointing and laughing (or doing it in their head) wherever you go. You feel like people can see your flaws or that there is something wrong with you. There are four main ways that this shows up: you think there is something wrong about how you look, something wrong with how you behave/interact, something wrong with your character, or that your anxiety symptoms are embarrassing.
You probably know that the way that you feel makes no sense to some extent: it’s not possible that everyone in the world can be thinking the same thing about you. But that doesn’t matter; you can’t control or manage these thoughts or the anxiety symptoms and it’s having an impact on your life.
A lot of people with social or performance anxiety also end up just avoiding the things that make them feel anxious. While this might work for someone who is afraid of clowns, to never go to the circus, avoiding people the rest of your life is obviously going to have some effects on your relationships, education/work, and ability to reach your goals and live the life you want.
What’s more, most people with social anxiety don’t talk about it. It’s not like other types of anxiety, where you might seek out reassurance from others or feel better when you can lean on a friend; instead, you end up feeling even more isolated and alone, because you can’t share what’s wrong (and hint: that’s part of the problem).
But for now, let’s set all that aside and take a look at some of the myths surrounding social anxiety.
It Isn’t That Common
If you think you are alone in your social or performance fears, think again. Most people have experienced at least a bit of social anxiety at some point in their lives. They say that the number one fear is public speaking, and public speaking anxiety is a type of social anxiety. Going for job interviews, meeting new people, and dating can also be cause for feeling nervous.
However, the type of social anxiety that requires intervention is more severe than anything that I just described. About 13% of people will have this more extreme form of social anxiety over their lifetime. That’s the third most common mental illness behind depression and substance abuse; and yet, it gets talked about so little.
Social Anxiety Is Just Public Speaking Anxiety
Nope, not even close. You know that anxiety that you feel when you have to give a speech? Imagine feeling that way just having lunch with a friend? Or when you have to sign some forms at the bank? Imagine if EVERY situation felt like you were under scrutiny or that the spotlight was on you?
While social anxiety most definitely encompasses things like public speaking and performing anxiety, it also can mean much less formal things like just going to a party or having to return something to the store. Whereas people without social anxiety will find these situations mundane, those with social anxiety can experience full-blown anxiety attacks.
It Is the Same as Being Nervous
Many people feel nervous in new social situations, but that is not the same as social anxiety. If you have social anxiety, you will have problems with your thinking patterns, you’ll feel anxiety in your body, and you’ll probably avoid situations. So whereas a person who gets nervous might settle down after a few minutes in a new situation, a person with social anxiety won’t feel calm until they leave the situation. This is true of public speaking and performing as well; it’s natural to feel nervous. But if you have strong anxiety through a whole performance, that’s social anxiety.
Social Anxiety Is the Same as Being Shy
So we’ve talked about being nervous; what about being shy? There probably exists a continuum from shyness to social anxiety, where shyness is a much milder form. People who are shy don’t generally have effects on their lives like never finding a partner, not being able to hold a job, or changing jobs because of anxiety.
It’s true also that some people who are not shy at all might have social anxiety. Do you know someone who is very loud and outgoing, but who panics at the thought of giving a speech? Or someone who is very outgoing with good friends but shuts down in the workplace due to anxiety? Those are examples of how shyness and social anxiety don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
You Have to Live with It
Unfortunately, most people living with social anxiety don’t know that it’s something that can be changed. Most people will go their whole lives without ever hearing about cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness techniques. But, there’s a lot you can do to manage your social anxiety. If you’d like to get started, sign up to my resource library at the top or bottom of this page to access my free worksheets.
How about you? Are there any ways that you’ve been misunderstood related to your social anxiety? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
Related Articles about Social Anxiety
- The Best Social Anxiety Books
- Best Mindfulness Books for Social Anxiety
- 11 Types of Thinking that Make Social Anxiety Worse