I’ve always considered myself shy, but if you ask the majority of my friends, they would tell you I am not shy AT ALL. I’m a pretty social and have a lot of friends. I attend events, travel and lead a pretty normal life. But what you don’t know is that 9 times out of 10, I struggle in social situations.
Years ago, I took part in a study on shyness that included group activities and some solo assignments like “starting a conversation with a stranger”, in hopes that this would help me with my shyness, but it did not. So finally last year, I started doing research on the differences between shyness and social anxiety. That is when I realized, I have social anxiety.
Social anxiety is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today. In America alone, over five and a half million suffer from Social Anxiety disorder. The effects of can sometimes be crippling. So if you don’t suffer from it yourself, chances are someone you know does, whether it be a friend, loved one, or co-worker.
WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
Social anxiety disorder (or Social phobia) is the constant fear of being criticized or evaluated by other people. It’s common for a person to feel somewhat apprehensive about speaking in front of crowds, approaching a stranger or going on a job interview. When these feelings of stress and anxiety are amplified greatly, we’ve entered the territory of Social Anxiety disorder.
People who suffer from social anxiety are excessively self-conscious to the point where they feel that everyone around them is looking at them and judging them harshly. They become nervous, anxious and afraid of the world around them. For those with social anxiety, everyday social situations like parties can become highly intimidating ordeals.
This INTENSE fear of social situations is the easiest way to identify Social Anxiety disorder.
I’ve been afraid of social situations for as long as I can remember. My mom enrolled me in preschool at an early age and often tells the story of how I cried for two weeks straight when I first started out there. My earliest memories of social fear date back to my preschool graduation. I had to do recite a poem or sing a song with my longtime friend Dee Dee and another boy in front of all our friends and family. I was calm, until it was my turn to do something on stage by myself. I cried my little eyes out; ’til this day I remember the fear I had standing in front of everyone watching me.
Instead of just going through with an activity that makes someone uncomfortable, a person suffering from Social Anxiety disorder is much more to just not do the activity at all. I can’t tell you the number of times I have stressed over attending an event or having to give a presentation at work. I have even gotten dressed for the event, drove to the venue, only to sit outside for a few minutes trying to calm my anxiety, but ultimately end up driving home and never going in. This behavior is common for people who suffer from Social Anxiety disorder.
In many cases, this fear will spread to not only taking part in social situations but also even to talking or thinking about these types of social exchanges and interactions. For instance, I will have anxiety just thinking about having to attend an event or go to a new place that I’ve never been before. And networking events scare me because I’m forced to start conversations with strangers.
HOW SERIOUS IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
Thankfully, I have a moderate case of Social Anxiety disorder, but this phobia can become amplified over time if not worked on. What starts off as anxiety over speaking in front of new people could eventually blow up into not even being able to go out to a movie with friends or eat dinner at a public restaurant. In more rare cases any sort of social interaction at all could become extremely psychologically painful. In some cases, people are afraid to leave their homes or even go out to eat because of their social anxiety.
It’s important to understand that a person who experiences Social Anxiety disorder can’t just easily overcome it. And telling someone to “Just get over it”, can sometimes be infuriating because it’s not as simple as snapping your fingers.
Next week, I’ll be sharing some 10 Things You Should Know About Me or Anyone else who suffers from Social Anxiety disorder, so subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out.
And if you’re wondering how social anxiety relates to other mental illnesses, read this post.