What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

what is social anxiety disorder

Feeling nervous is a normal part of life.

Many people get sweaty palms or butterflies in their tummies before meeting someone new or giving a speech. While some anxiety in social situations is nothing to be concerned about, social anxiety disorder is more serious.

A person with social anxiety may experience the physical and emotional symptoms of nervousness on an extreme level that heavily interferes with daily life.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a mental health disorder that is sometimes called social phobia. The fear of being judged or rejected by others is what differentiates shy people from those with social anxiety disorder.

If you or a loved one have social anxiety, it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and effects of this disorder. You should also keep in mind that social anxiety is a spectrum disorder.

The symptoms and complications range from mild to severe depending on the person.

Statistics on Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is present in about (12%) 15 million Americans. Most often, people with social anxiety begin experiencing symptoms in their teenage years.

social anxiety

Although this disorder is common, many people who have the symptoms of social anxiety do not reach out for help immediately.

Over a third of socially anxious people wait ten years or more before talking to a doctor. While social anxiety disorder is more common in females, anyone can be diagnosed with it.

Situations That Trigger Social Anxiety

We live in a social world full of naturally social human beings.

Even those who prefer solitude need other people. We rely on doctors for healthcare, farmers for food, and cashiers to sell us the products we need. The ability to thrive in social situations is imperative for success in your career, your finances, your romantic life, and your friendships. For people with social anxiety, almost any social situation can trigger an onset of symptoms.

Triggers can be as simple as walking into a room or as complex as giving a speech. Here are some other social anxiety-inducing situations.

  • Conversing with strangers
  • Going on a date
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Going to a party
  • Using a public bathroom
  • Initiating conversations
  • Going to work
  • Attending school
  • Eating in front of people

How Social Anxiety Impacts Quality of Life

As you can see, social anxiety can impact a long list of social situations. This can make it very difficult for a socially anxious person to thrive and survive.

Not only does social anxiety disorder make it hard to complete daily tasks, but it can also have a negative impact on self-esteem. People with social anxiety may have negative thoughts, depression, and poor social skills. Social anxiety makes it hard to form and maintain relationships.

Without the ability to successfully communicate at work and make friends, a person’s quality of life may be negatively impacted by social anxiety.

Social Anxiety’s Direct Impact on Employment and Financial Stability

It’s important to note that people who struggle to become employed because of their social anxiety are facing a real struggle. Whether they can’t get a job because they have anxiety attacks during interviews or they get fired for missing work due to their social anxiety, the impact of the disorder on a person’s ability to work is devastating.

social anxiety explained

The inability to hold a job and make a living can prevent a person from becoming financially stable and independent. Socially anxious people aren’t faking it or exaggerating the severity of their symptoms. They want to make a living and have a career, but they face challenges that people without social anxiety never have to think about.

What Happens During a Social Anxiety Attack?

People may experience the following symptoms during a social anxiety attack. Not all people with social anxiety will experience all of these symptoms. The nature of a social anxiety attack depends entirely on the person. Understanding the symptoms can help make social anxiety feel a little less scary and unpredictable.

Emotional Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Fear of being humiliated
  • Fear of being judged
  • Nervous around strangers
  • Fear of expressing physical symptoms (listed below)
  • Worry that others will notice your anxiety
  • Fear of being the center of attention
  • Apprehension of social events
  • Intense fear during social interactions
  • Replaying past social situations to find flaws
  • Expecting negative outcomes from social interaction

If you have a child with social anxiety disorder, you may notice that they cry, throw a tantrum, or refuse to speak to adults and other children. Understanding the signs can help you get your child diagnosed and treated early.

Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Tight muscles
  • Face redness or blushing
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate

Why Do Some People Have Social Anxiety?

There is no one known cause of social anxiety. Experts agree that genetics plays a big role in whether or not someone develops a social anxiety disorder. The amygdala could play a role in social anxiety disorder.

Having a socially anxious family member may also cause you to develop the disorder. The causes of social anxiety are equal parts nature and nurture. Here are just a few of the possible causes.

Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Genetic traits from anxious family members
  • An overactive amygdala
  • Environmental factors

Some of the causes of social anxiety may overlap with the risk factors of the disorder. Here are a few of the risk factors associated with the development of social anxiety disorder.

Risk Factors of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Family history of social anxiety
  • Disfigurement or other physical traits that draw attention
  • Shyness in childhood
  • Trauma, bullying, abuse, and overbearing parents

Social Anxiety vs. Introversion

It’s very important to understand that social anxiety disorder is not just introversion.

Introverts are people who prefer to spend time alone. They may feel drained after social interactions, but they do not have overwhelming anxiety and dread before attending a party or entering a room. Introversion doesn’t have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, but social anxiety disorder can be debilitating.

How to Prevent a Social Anxiety Attack

If you have a social anxiety disorder, knowing how to manage the symptoms and prevent attacks is key.

Getting diagnosed and treated as soon as possible is the first step. Your doctor will be able to provide you with information about social anxiety disorder, tips for managing it, and medication recommendations. Many people with social anxiety find activities like journaling, meditating, drawing, and exercising to be soothing. If you have social anxiety, it’s best to avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. These substances can worsen social anxiety or interfere with treatment. Natural anxiety-reducing supplements can help reduce the activity in the brain.

Complications Associated with Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety may engage in negative self-talk, people-pleasing, substance abuse, suicidal attempts, and self-isolation. They may have unsatisfactory grades, poor social skills, and be extremely sensitive to criticism. These complications don’t make people with social anxiety disorder bad, lazy, or crazy. Using these negative labels is harmful. It’s important to be aware of the complications of social anxiety disorder without condemning the people suffering from it.

When to Talk to Your Doctor About Social Anxiety

If you are experiencing the symptoms and complications mentioned in this article, you should talk to your doctor about getting diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Getting the proper help to manage social anxiety disorder is the first step in overcoming the challenges that come with it.

Final Thoughts on Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety is a common, real disorder affecting many people. While socially anxious people often get mislabeled as shy or introverted, creating awareness and acceptance about the disorder can make it easier for people to reach out for help. The disorder itself can stop people from picking up the phone to make an appointment and meet with a doctor. When society as a whole is more aware of the symptoms and complications of social anxiety disorder, it is more likely that people with the disorder will feel safe and accepted.

Social anxiety affects all aspects of a person’s life. If they are able to access the resources they need to succeed, they can function better in society. They will experience a better quality of life and be able to serve a more productive, connected role. Similar to ADHD and other mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder isn’t going away just because there are naysayers. Spreading awareness about social anxiety disorder helps create acceptance.