Do I Have Social Anxiety? 9 Signs And Symptoms
Anxiety is a universal human feeling, like anger or joy, that most people experience at some point in their lives. While anxious feelings can be normal, when anxiety is experienced in excess, and especially chronically, it can sometimes be defined as a disorder. There are many types of anxiety disorders, one of which is social anxiety disorder, or SAD. According to NIMH, nearly 7% of Americans have this subset of anxiety which is characterized by a fear of being judged by and interacting with other people. If you’ve struggled in social settings for some time now, you may be wondering if you could have SAD. In this article, we’ll be discussing nine common signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder and how to seek support if you’re experiencing any of them.
What Is Social Anxiety?
There are many kinds of anxiety disorders, but social anxiety disorder is persistent and intense anxiety around social interaction, usually stemming from a fear of being judged. Those with this condition may avoid being around others at all because they feel so self-conscious about how they may be perceived.
Social anxiety disorder can stem from many possible factors, including inherited traits, brain structure, and environment. There are also many risk factors that can lead to this disorder, such as genetic/family history, upbringing, early adverse experiences, personality, attention-drawing appearance, and high-stress or traumatic events which may trigger social anxiety for the first time. Social anxiety can come in varying levels, but it normally causes some type of disruption to an individual’s life.
Signs And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is a repetitive and long-lasting disorder that typically doesn't go away as you mature. One of the most effective ways to determine if you have social anxiety disorder is to look at its symptoms. Below are nine common symptoms experienced by those who have social anxiety disorder.
1) Fear Of Talking To And Interacting With Others
Those with social anxiety disorder often experience a fear of talking and interacting with others, and this tends to be the most common symptom. Have you ever had any of the thoughts below?
- "I'd just rather stay at home than have to interact with people."
- "I don't want to talk to people because I'll sound silly."
- "Large crowds make me feel nervous and uncomfortable."
- "Talking to strangers is something I just don't like to do."
If you feel anxious throughout most of your day while interacting with other people, you may be struggling with social anxiety. Keep in mind that you may feel comfortable around family or even a couple of close friends but have trouble in groups or with new people. If strangers or groups seem to make your anxiety worsen, it could be a sign of social anxiety.
2) Feeling Sick Or Nauseous
Nausea can be another symptom of social anxiety, which often occurs before or during social events or presentations and may even be experienced on a regular occurrence. Many people get the butterflies occasionally when they’re nervous, but what separates those with and without the disorder is a more regular and intense feeling of sickness.
Rather than the occasional butterflies before a big presentation, these feelings of nausea are often severe and persistent. If the condition continues to go untreated, this symptom may become increasingly more difficult to handle, and the physical sensations more intense.
3) Rigid Posture And Sudden Poor Communication Skills
If you have a social anxiety disorder, then you may experience a freezing up of your muscles and posture in times of great social anxiety. This may be described as a sort of "deer in the headlights" look and may occur during a presentation or even in one-on-one conversations with other people.
Accompanying the rigidity of your muscles, you may also tend to avoid eye contact and soften your voice. This is an unconscious trick your mind does to hide your presence. So, if you notice you tend to soften your voice and avoid eye contact when in conversation, you may be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety. Working on your communication skills is one way to overcome this symptom.
4) Trembling, A Fast Heartbeat, Blushing, Sweating, And More
Unlike the last symptoms, these are less about hiding and more about the activation of your fight or flight response. Since social interaction is flagged as overly stressful, your body reacts in a way to prepare you for fight or flight as a way of trying to cope with large amounts of stress and anxiety.
The more you think about stopping these symptoms, the worse they can get. While most people blush or sweat during embarrassing moments, presentations, or first dates, the difference here is that these symptoms are commonplace for those with social anxiety. Rather than occurring every now and then, they happen regularly and are usually difficult to control.
Whether it's during a presentation where all eyes are on you or just a regular social interaction, your thoughts may be clouded with fears of others judging you. Self-consciousness is a universal human experience, but the level at which individuals with social anxiety disorder experience can be much more intense and common. You may feel like your flaws are so obvious that the people around you can’t help but notice them. Feeling self-conscious can make your other symptoms worse, which can lead to a cycle of worsening symptoms all around.
6) Anxiety Over Upcoming Social Events Or Activities
Some of the most stress-inducing moments for someone with social anxiety are those from an upcoming social event or activity. The expectation for what is coming can be enough alone to bring on intense anxiety. This could extend to school events, presentations, the first day of a new job, and more. While nerves are normal, if you experience overwhelming or uncontrollable anxiety over upcoming events on a regular basis, it could be a sign you have social anxiety.
7) An Overly Negative Mindset About The Outcome Of A Social Situation
If an upcoming social event alone isn't enough to drive someone to anxiety and stress, an overly negative mindset could be. Many of us unconsciously expect unrealistically bad things to happen when we are in high-stress social situations, and we can also expect that a negative action will lead to a chain reaction of destructive events.
Both frames of mind are more common than you might think, but what separates these one-off expectations in an objectively high-stress interaction from the symptoms of someone with social anxiety is the level of extremity and frequency. If you have a social anxiety disorder, thoughts such as these may not only occur during an interview or a date but in many everyday interactions. Your automatic negative mindset of what’s to come may impact you so much that it drives you to avoid social interaction altogether.
8) A Desire To Avoid And Limit Social Interactions
If social interaction feels like too much to handle, then you may be driven to remove yourself from them completely. The stress and buildup of negative expectations can lead those with a social anxiety disorder to try to avoid and limit their social interactions, sometimes consciously, and sometimes not. This symptom tends to arise after the other symptoms have been around for some time.
Though avoiding other people is a coping mechanism, it doesn't help the individual with the underlying issue, and it is not a solution to the problem. Rather, it may help the individual with social anxiety feel more in control and may even lessen their symptoms for a short time—but actually makes the condition stronger and more difficult to handle in the long run.
9) Symptoms Last For Six Months Or Longer
You may have experienced many of these symptoms listed before, but you still might not have social anxiety. Rather, these could just be one-off occurrences. One of the most effective ways to tell if you have social anxiety disorder is to consider how long you’ve been managing and trying to cope with your symptoms. If you have experienced most of these symptoms over a period lasting six months or longer, it could point to social anxiety disorder.
If you recognize most of these symptoms in your normal behavior, it can be vital to speak to a professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or doctor. Only they can do a comprehensive assessment, give you an accurate diagnosis, and set you up with an effective treatment plan. Avoid self-diagnosing as this could lead to a delay in your treatment and possibly worsen your symptoms.
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