Like most people, you’ve probably experienced a certain level of social anxiety. You may not always feel comfortable socializing in large groups. You may prefer to spend time alone or one-on-one with a longtime friend. You may find your palms sweating before you speak before a crowd or your heart racing in case you’ll be called to answer a question in class or in the workplace.
But if the anxiety you feel in social situations is so intense that you’re overwhelmed to the point of avoiding social interaction altogether, you may be experiencing a social anxiety disorder.
What Is A Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorders are the third most common mental health issue in the U.S., behind depression and alcoholism. People who suffer from what used to be called “social phobia” often feel as if they’re being evaluated and judged in a negative way by everyone around them. This can give rise to feelings of:
Social situations can become so stressful that sufferers take great measures to avoid person-to-person contact. They’ll often have trouble making and keeping friends, communicating with colleagues, and maintaining romantic relationships.
Shyness Vs. Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is not your garden-variety shyness. Shyness can be a matter of temperament, and it can usually be overcome. Social anxiety, on the other hand, is debilitating and requires the help of mental health professionals to diagnose and treat.
Suffers are so afraid of putting themselves in the spotlight that they experience physical symptoms of extreme stress, such as:
- Racing heart
- A mind that “goes blank”
They also tend to avoid eye contact and speak softly, as if they could wish themselves smaller and unnoticeable.
Treatments For Social Anxiety
Treatments for social anxiety tend to fall into three categories.
- Psychotherapy, in particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can help sufferers learn techniques to modify their thinking and behavior to cope better.
- Support Groups, where suffers can listen to others who have similar anxiety issues and discuss methods of handling the condition.
- Anti-Anxiety Medications, as a way to give immediate relief until behavior modification and other methods can be learned and implemented.
It takes consistent work and persistence to overcome social anxiety, but with the help of experienced mental health professionals, you’ll be well on your way to a less stressful life.