Do you experience significant anxiety when in a crowd or giving a presentation? Does your heart race, face turn red and palms sweat when in a new environment? Do you try to avoid these types of situations as much as possible? Is this interfering with your social life or schoolwork? If you are concerned that your avoidance might be more than typical shyness, read on.
What is the difference between social phobia and shyness? The main difference is that people with social phobia will experience intense anxiety in social situations and will often try to avoid these situations at any cost. If they don’t or can’t avoid the situations, they are extremely anxious the whole time and usually feel some physical symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart, feeling dizzy or faint, trouble breathing, sweating or an upset stomach. People with social phobia can feel comfortable with close friends and family but extremely uncomfortable with those they don’t know well or those in a position to judge them.
If you have the following symptoms, you might be suffering from social anxiety, or what the American Psychiatric Association terms “social phobia:”
Remember, only a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can determine if you have social anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
They’re afraid of looking foolish or stupid. They worry about being laughed at and humiliated. They feel extremely self-conscious. They are sure that everyone is watching them, waiting for them to make mistakes and show how dumb or uncool they really are. If someone is mean or insulting, they take it to heart and feel crushed. They are overly sensitive to slights and see them even when they are not there. They would really rather be invisible, and they try to get by without being noticed. Life with social phobia is no fun!
People with social phobia focus on all the things that could go wrong in social interactions and how they will be embarrassed or humiliated. They have difficulty participating in class and because of that, their grades can suffer. They often won’t join in extracurricular activities such as clubs or sports. They might refuse class trips or any group activity that’s not required. Parties or hanging out anywhere their classmates are is just too difficult. Social phobia prevents people from trying new things, developing their talents and skills and showing what they know. It can also leave people feeling lonely, insecure and disappointed.
Anxiety disorders are treatable, and many with social anxiety overcome it or find ways to make it easier to manage. In general, most people are treated with therapy, medications or both. If you are having trouble with anxiety, you should seek the help of a trained professional at your school or in your community so that you can learn strategies to get you on the road to social ease.
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for
MentalDisorders, 4th ed, Text Revision. APA: Washington, D.C.
Bourdon K., Boyd J., Rae D., et al. (1988) Gender differences in phobias: results
of the ECA community survey. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2, 227-41.
Kessler R., Chiu W., Demler O., & Walters E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and
comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity
Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62 (6),617 27.
Robins L., Regier D., (1991). Psychiatric Disorders in America: The
Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study. New York: The Free Press.