Symptoms of Social Anxiety
They fall into three categories.
Posted Apr 18, 2013
Many people want to know the symptoms of social anxiety. They fall into three main categories. As you read through these, take note of which ones apply to you.
1. The mental anguish
People with social anxiety are plagued with negative thoughts and doubts about themselves such as:
- Do I look okay?
- Am I dressed appropriately?
- Will I know what to talk about?
- Will I sound stupid, or boring?
- What if other people don't like me?
- What if people notice I'm nervous?
- What if people think I'm too quiet?
The fear of possible rejection or disapproval is foremost in socially anxious people's minds, and they scan for any signs that confirm their negative expectations.
2. The physical distress
Many people don't realize that actual physical discomfort can accompany social anxiety. For example, someone may experience a panic attack in a social situation, in which they feel a sudden and severe rush of fear and anxiety, accompanied by some or all of the following anxiety symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Racing heart
- Tingling or sensations of numbness
It's important to note that many people are misdiagnosed with panic disorder, when in fact they have social anxiety disorder. The key to knowing which of the two is the real problem lies in understanding the root fear. In panic disorder, the person fears the panic attack itself, and often feels as if he or she is dying during such an episode. In the case of social anxiety disorder, the fear is centered around the possibility that people might witness the panic attack and the resulting humiliation that would occur. Some people may have both panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.
3. The toll of avoidance
It's human nature to avoid pain and suffering. From an evolutionary perspective, we are hard-wired either to fight or flee from a dangerous situation. It's no surprise then that people with social anxiety disorder tend to avoid or painfully endure situations that they believe will cause them harm.
Avoidance can be outright. It might mean never attending a party or going to a restaurant. It might mean having few, if any, friends. It might mean never having an intimate relationship. It might mean dropping out of school or working at a job beneath one's potential.
People with social anxiety may engage in other, more subtle methods of avoidance, what is called partial avoidance. Examples of partial avoidance include using alcohol to cope with anxiety (drinking before a party in order to be able to go at all) and setting certain parameters on social situations (only staying at the party short period of time). Another example of partial avoidance is trying to distract your self by daydreaming or thinking about other things. It also might mean avoiding eye contact.
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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice.