Social anxiety disorder goes beyond being shy or introverted. It involves an extreme fear of social interaction and it interferes with an individual's daily life.
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder usually begin around age 13, and symptoms persist into adulthood. Most people with social anxiety wait at least 10 years to get help, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Whether you think you may have social anxiety, or suspect someone you know suffers from it, here are the most common things people with social anxiety disorder do:
1. They imagine embarrassing themselves.
Whether they're about to meet a new person, or they're walking into a social gathering, people with social anxiety disorder envision horribly embarrassing scenarios. They worry that they'll say or do the wrong thing and they picture other people being horrified by their behavior.
2. They avoid situations where they'll be judged.
Social anxiety causes people to think things like, "Other people will think I'm stupid," or "I'll mess up and everyone is going to think I'm a loser." Their extreme fear of rejection causes them to steer clear of uncertain social situations whenever possible.
3. They only feel comfortable with a few specific people.
Most people with social anxiety feel comfortable with a few specific individuals --a best friend, a parent, or a sibling. Interacting with other individuals can lead to a serious spike in anxiety. Often, taking a "safe" person to the grocery store or a social gathering makes their interactions a lot less scary.
4. They worry other people will notice their fear.
Whether they speak up in a meeting or they try to make small talk with an acquaintance, people with social anxiety worry that their anxiety is noticeable. They tend to experience physical symptoms, such as a flushed face, sweaty palms, trembling hands or shortness of breath, and they're convinced everyone else can tell when they're nervous.
5. They experience specific social fears.
For some people with social anxiety, the fear is contained to public speaking. But others experience extreme anxiety over things like writing in front of others or eating in public places. Many people with social anxiety fear talking on the phone as well.
6. They criticize their social skills.
People with social anxiety spend a lot of time analyzing their social interactions. They replay conversations in their minds over and over and scrutinize their communication. They exaggerate their flaws and judge themselves harshly.
7. Their thoughts often become a self-fulfilling prophecies.
The negative thoughts associated with social anxiety often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Someone who thinks, "People always think I'm weird," may stick to himself during social engagements. His aloofness may discourage others from talking to him, which reinforces his belief that he's socially awkward.
Get Help for Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a very treatable condition. Therapy, medication, or a combination of the two can often alleviate the symptoms.
If you think you may have social anxiety, talk to your doctor. A physician can rule out medical health issues that could be contributing to your symptoms and can refer you for appropriate psychological treatment if necessary.