Social anxiety is a common mental health condition that is a fear of being watched or judged by others in a social setting. Social anxiety can affect many aspects of your life, including work, school, and relationships. While social anxiety can be challenging to live with, it doesn’t have to keep you from living your life, and treatment can help you overcome the symptoms.
What does Social Anxiety Look Like?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition) (DSM-5), the criteria for anxiety disorder include:
- Persistent, intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations because you believe you may be judged, embarrassed, or humiliated
- Avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety
- Excessive anxiety that’s out of proportion to the situation
- Anxiety or distress that interferes with your daily living
- Fear or anxiety that is not better explained by a medical condition, medication or substance abuse
A person struggling with social anxiety disorder may feel symptoms of anxiety or fear in certain social situations such as meeting new people, dating, job interviews, public speaking, or ordering food at a restaurant. Additionally, doing things in a social setting like eating in front of people or using a public restroom can also trigger this fear or anxiety in individuals. Typically, people struggling with a social anxiety disorder are worried that they may be judged, rejected, or even humiliated by people.
Anxiety within social situations is so intense that many people feel unable to control their feelings or emotions. This perceived inability to control their anxiety can potentially affect their performance in school, work, or social situations, which can lead to the person avoiding these types of situations altogether.
When does Social Anxiety Start?
Social anxiety disorders usually develop during youth in people that are often described as ‘extremely shy.’ Social Anxiety disorder is relatively common, and research suggests that around 7% of individuals within the United States are affected by this to some degree.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety or fear within social situations can look different for everyone struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder. Typically, when having to perform in front of others or be around others in a social situation, people with anxiety disorders can:
- Blush, sweat, or tremble
- Have an increased heart rate
- Feel dizzy
- Make less eye contact
- Speak quietly
- Feel nauseous or lightheaded
- Be very afraid of judgment from other people
- Have a hard time talking to people, especially people they don’t know, even though they wish it would be easier
- Feel self-conscious in front of other people
- Avoid or stay away from places where there are other people
- Isolate themselves from others
- Feel embarrassed or awkward around other people
How is Social Anxiety Disorder Treated?
The first step when treating social anxiety is to talk to a health care professional about the symptoms that you are experiencing. Your doctor can help rule out any unrelated physical health problems and point you in the right direction of beneficial treatment. This typically results in a referral to a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or clinical counselor who can properly diagnose a mental health disorder to understand better what treatment is needed.
Forms of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be beneficial for treating social anxiety disorders. For instance, this type of psychotherapy helps teach you different ways of thinking, behaving, or reacting to situations to decrease the distress caused by anxiety or fear within social situations.
Group therapy can also be a beneficial component to treating social anxiety disorders. Support groups can help individuals get more perspective on their anxiety and learn how their thoughts about what will happen when around others aren’t necessarily true.
Medication is also another thing to consider when treating social anxiety disorders. While psychotherapy and group therapy is an effective form of treatment, sometimes medication is helpful. Your doctor will work with you to find the best medication for your specific need. However, most people who are prescribed medication obtain the best results when also doing psychotherapy in conjunction with their medication.