Some social situations are stressful for everyone. For instance, if you needed to deliver a speech in front of thousands of people, the chances are that you would feel at least a little anxious.
Many people experience social anxiety from time to time in different situations, whether it be meeting new people, making an important presentation, or going to a party full of random people. Some people, however, experience anxiety too often, and its effects make it very difficult for them to participate in any social activities.
Understanding anxiety allows you to recognize the difference between regular anxiety and mental disorder. There are several kinds of anxiety disorders, with social anxiety being among the most common ones. As a result, some people confuse social anxiety with shyness and vice versa.
Given that social anxiety can have a significant negative impact on one’s quality of life, it’s important to recognize the problem so that a person can seek professional help and follow an effective social anxiety treatment plan.
For instance, if you have social anxiety, you can cope with symptoms by using licensed online therapy and practicing self-care. In this article, we will take a closer look at the causes and symptoms of social anxiety disorder so that you can recognize it on time.
What Social Anxiety Disorder Is
According to statistics, about 15 million Americans have social anxiety. This disorder impacts a person’s ability to interact with others, and it can manifest itself in different ways. For example, even socially active and confident people may experience severe anxiety when leaving their house, and some people may hide their nervousness during conversations despite feeling very anxious.
Some people refer to social anxiety disorder as the fear of people, and this is a somewhat correct term. In fact, up until the 1980s, psychologists had used the term “social phobia” when talking about the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Even though some people still use these terms interchangeably, there is a difference between anxiety and phobias, such as the fear of crowds. Social anxiety refers to the symptoms people experience before and during direct interactions with others.
The term “social phobia” had been used in the context of public performances for a long time but then “social anxiety disorder” became an umbrella term for all kinds of social fear and anxiety.
What Causes Social Anxiety
Researchers have yet to determine what exactly causes social anxiety. However, the existing research data shows that this disorder is most likely caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Most people develop social anxiety in their childhood and teenage years. If a child is bullied at school or there are toxic family relationships, there is also a higher risk of the child developing social anxiety. Victims of abuse are also more likely to have this disorder. Besides, overly controlling and protective parents can contribute to the development of social anxiety in their kids.
Researchers have also found connections between social anxiety disorder and some physical abnormalities. For instance, research data proves a connection between social anxiety and an overactive amygdala. This part of the brain is responsible for fear, and it’s significantly more active in people with anxiety disorders.
Another important risk factor is serotonin imbalance. Researchers link problems with the production of this hormone, which plays an important role in mood regulation, to many mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
So, do you have social anxiety, or is it just shyness? Well, shyness isn’t a disorder but simply a natural character trait. There’s nothing wrong with being shy or introverted. However, people with social anxiety also often appear shy and quiet. The main difference is that, even though shy and introverted people may feel uncomfortable in social situations, social anxiety disorder feels much more intense.
Here are some of the key signs of social anxiety.
Social anxiety feeds off negative thoughts and beliefs. At first glance, it may seem like your thoughts are related to a certain situation. For instance, you may think about how things can go wrong and how you may fail.
However, the truth is that the thoughts that drive anxiety are often inaccurate and exaggerated. Negative beliefs about oneself lead to negative biases and result in automatic negative thoughts. Such thoughts can be very difficult to control.
It’s important to recognize automatic thoughts that trigger anxiety so that you can challenge them and address the main cause. In fact, questioning and challenging unhelpful thoughts are the key parts of cognitive behavioral therapy, which has proven to be effective in treating anxiety.
The physical symptoms of social anxiety are particularly easy to recognize. People with social anxiety may experience various physical problems, many of which resemble symptoms of a panic attack.
Some of the most common symptoms are increased heart rate, a tight feeling in the chest, increased blood pressure, headaches, difficulty breathing, dry mouth, and ear-ringing. Besides, social anxiety also often causes sweating, blushing, and a trembling voice.
All of these physical symptoms can be more or less intense depending on the severity of social anxiety disorder in each particular case.
Obviously, social anxiety also has a significant impact on one’s behavior. One of the most common signs of social anxiety is avoiding certain social situations. A person with social anxiety may avoid social situations even when they offer significant benefits.
For instance, this disorder may stop you from attending a job interview or pursuing a degree simply because of the fear of embarrassment and public speaking. People with social anxiety may not spend time with their friends and relatives and avoid romantic relationships.
Coping With Social Anxiety
First of all, you should keep in mind that social anxiety is treatable. Mental health professionals are perfectly familiar with this disorder, and if you experience its symptoms, the best solution is to try therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you identify negative thoughts and beliefs that cause your anxiety and challenge them so that you can regain control over your thinking process.
Your therapist may suggest effective grounding techniques for anxiety, and you may also manage anxiety with journaling. Keeping a journal of your thoughts and experiences is a common part of social anxiety treatment because it can help you see what events trigger negative thoughts.
A great thing about cognitive behavioral therapy is that it can be delivered remotely. Commuting to a therapist’s office may be too uncomfortable or time-consuming, and in this case, you can use online therapy platforms like Calmerry. Such platforms provide video chat therapy and allow you to talk to a licensed therapist from your home.
Social anxiety is a very common mental health disorder, and its symptoms can be more or less severe. Unlike shyness or introversion, social anxiety isn’t a healthy thing, and its symptoms can have a significant negative impact on one’s quality of life.
Fortunately, social anxiety can be treated. Therapy usually focuses on detecting and challenging negative thinking patterns that cause anxiety. Not only is talk therapy effective, but it can also be delivered remotely thanks to online communication. You can learn more about talk therapy to prepare for your first conversation with a professional and make the first step toward a better life.