What exactly is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is one of the most common mental disorders, so if you have it, there’s hope. The tough part is being able to ask for help. Here’s how to know if your social silence has gone beyond shyness to a point where you need to see a doctor.


If you have a social anxiety disorder, though, the stress of these situations is too much to handle. You might avoid all social contact because things that other people consider “normal” -- like making small talk and eye contact -- make you so uncomfortable. All aspects of your life, not just the social, could start to fall apart.


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When Does It Happen?
Anyone with social anxiety disorder can experience it in different ways. But here are some common situations that people tend to have trouble with:

Talking to strangers
Speaking in public
Making eye contact
Entering rooms
Using public restrooms
Going to parties
Eating in front of other people
Going to school or work
Starting conversations
Some of these situations might not cause a problem for you. For example, giving a speech may be easy, but going to a party might be a nightmare. Or you could be great at one-on-one conversations but not at stepping into a crowded classroom.

All socially anxious people have different reasons for dreading certain situations. But in general, it’s an overwhelming fear of:

Being judged by others in social situations
Being embarrassed or humiliated -- and showing it by blushing, sweating, or shaking
Accidentally offending someone
Being the center of attention

What Does It Feel Like?
Again, the experience may be different for everyone, but if you have social anxiety and you’re in a stressful situation, you might have physical symptoms like:

Rapid heartbeat
Muscle tension
Dizziness and lightheadedness
Stomach trouble and diarrhea
Inability to catch a breath
“Out-of-body” sensation
You may start having symptoms and getting anxious immediately before an event, or you might spend weeks worrying about it. Afterward, you could spend a lot of time and mental energy worrying about how you acted.

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