What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety can affect multiple areas of a person’s life. For some individuals, symptoms are very specific — they may be afraid of speaking in front of a group or eating in public. Other people tend to feel anxiety more broadly, and are uncomfortable with most social situations regardless of context. Social anxiety can be a pervasive and debilitating condition that overtakes a person’s entire life. There are many different manifestations of social anxiety, and the problem usually worsens with time.

In its simplest terms, social anxiety disorder — which was previously referred to as social phobia disorder — is an intense fear of being judged by others and is characterized by the emotions of shame, humiliation and embarrassment. While it may seem that we all have this fear to some degree, sufferers of social anxiety are often unable to push past these emotions, causing them to avoid the situations in their lives that trigger these feelings.

Understanding Social Anxiety

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Sufferers can experience strong symptoms of anxiety just by anticipating a situation that is weeks or months away. This can lead to obsessive behaviors like memorizing what he or she will say and excessive grooming. If a situation cannot be avoided, a sufferer will often analyze how they were perceived and how they performed long after the situation is over.

“Social anxiety does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, all races and
all cultures.”

Symptoms of social anxiety exist on a continuum. They are more severe in some people, and may affect individuals differently depending on the stage of life they’re experiencing. For this reason, social anxiety must be diagnosed by a mental health professional, who can help to provide increased understanding, resources, and approaches for managing anxiety.

Additionally, social anxiety is characterized by symptoms that last for six months or longer. Many times, individuals who have social anxiety may struggle to recognize that their anxiety is more extreme than truly warranted. As such, symptoms of social anxiety may be more easy to recognize by caregivers or clinicians, though only a trained medical professional can provide an accurate diagnosis.

Social anxiety does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, all races and all cultures. Social and performance anxieties can affect people at all functioning levels, from high achievers to those who struggle across multiple areas of life. Millions of individuals suffer from some form of social anxiety. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of every eight people experiences some degree of social anxiety.