10 Things to Know About Social Anxiety
Have you ever found yourself wondering, “what is social anxiety?” Is how I feel normal shyness or something more? Social anxiety is still a bit of a mystery—some people even think it’s a made-up problem or doesn’t exist. But, for people who live with this problem, it’s very real and life-altering (in a bad way).
Below, I’d like to help the general public understand what social anxiety is and what it isn’t. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, this is will be education on compassion for others as well as what to look out for in your family and friends.
If you have experienced social anxiety yourself, then likely you will find yourself saying “yes that’s me” or “finally, someone who understands.”
Mostly what I want you to take away from this post is that social anxiety can look different depending on who you are, but the underlying theme is still the same; yes it’s a diagnosable mental disorder, but in many cases it’s actually one of the easiest to treat. The problem is that most people will never receive help. I don’t want that to be you.
What is social anxiety? Here are some thoughts.
1. Social anxiety is panicking about your anxiety.
Most people feel anxious from time to time. When you have social anxiety, you become hyper-aware of any anxiety symptoms to the point that you make them worse. It’s a vicious cycle where your mind panics at the thought of anxiety becoming visible to others, which in turn causes more anxiety.
2. Social anxiety can be just a public speaking phobia.
I’ve seen it asked before whether social anxiety can be just a public speaking phobia. Absolutely. It’s not about whether you only have anxiety in one situation, it’s how much that anxiety affects you in your day-to-day life. If you have a job that requires public speaking, or you’re a student who needs to give presentations, and this causes you severe anxiety, then that is social anxiety.
3. Social anxiety is overthinking what you say.
It’s the little voice in your head that talks you out of anything you think of to say—especially when trying to talk to new people or make small talk with people you don’t know well. Because of this overthinking, you eventually end up saying nothing. This is different from being an introvert: an introvert might not say anything but feel comfortable doing so. A socially anxious person feels uncomfortable about not saying anything because of all the overthinking.
4. Social anxiety is feeling like you can’t look anxious around people.
Do you feel it’s unacceptable to look anxious in front of people? This is the belief held by most people who are socially anxious. It might start out with something small like blushing, which turns into a bigger problem because you try to control it, panic about it, or generally just feel like there is something wrong with you.
5. Social anxiety means feeling like the odd one out.
It means feeling left out in a group, not finding a life partner, not having a group of friends, not being able to go out in public, etc. It’s different for each person, but in general it’s the feeling of just not fitting in anywhere with anyone.
6. Social anxiety means not knowing how to be yourself.
When’s the last time you felt like you were being truly yourself? Probably not recently if you have social anxiety. It means never quite feeling comfortable enough to speak your mind or just be who you are. It might even mean not being sure who you are anymore, because of suppressing yourself for so long.
7. Social anxiety means not leaving your house.
For some people, it means not leaving the house or going out in public—or not being able to do it unless in the company of a trusted friend. Did you back out of a gathering because there would be nobody “safe” there that you knew you could talk to? That’s social anxiety.
8. Social anxiety means not being able to eat in front of people.
This is a common symptom: not feeling comfortable eating in front of others. When you pick up your fork and worry whether it’s shaking, that’s social anxiety. When you pick up your glass and you worry it will spill, that’s social anxiety. When you eat lunch in the bathroom or some other private place, that’s social anxiety.
9. Social anxiety is the third most common mental disorder.
When you meet the criteria for social anxiety disorder, you are diagnosed with the third most common mental disorder (behind only depression and substance abuse). Then why don’t we hear much about it? Because nobody with social anxiety is talking about it.
10. Social anxiety is treatable.
I’ll leave you with this: social anxiety is one of the more easily treated mental health conditions. It just doesn’t get treated because people don’t get help. If you take one thing away from this post, please take away the message that it is possible for you to feel better. No matter what your background is, you can feel better and do better. Reach out to your doctor, or if you don’t feel you can do that, sign up for my free newsletter where I share weekly tips and tricks to help you manage social anxiety.
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