Social anxiety is the overwhelming feeling of worry about every day activities. Activities that some people might take for granted and engage in with no problem – interacting with strangers, parties or large gatherings, using public facilities such as a public restroom, and even dining in public. These types of environments may cause a lot of distress for individuals with social anxiety and, if severe enough, those people tend to avoid these potentially triggering situations at all cost.
Not everyone will have the same trigger. For example, someone might do just fine riding in public transportation or maybe giving a speech to a large crowd but are easily triggered with anxious feelings when they are faced with having to eat in a restaurant. Whereas others might be triggered with any sort of public outing and as a result they confine themselves to the comfort of their home.
Social anxiety can cause a tremendous amount of fear, feelings of embarrassment, or concern that people are judging you. Racing heart, feeling short of breath, sweaty palms, dizziness, and upset stomach are just a few of the physical symptoms caused by social anxiety. If left untreated, social anxiety may lead to isolation, low self-esteem, and depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants are beneficial in managing this type of anxiety. The goal is to decrease the frequency and severity of the anxiety, encourage optimal functioning, and to learn how to overcome potential triggers. In severe situations, anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines may be useful for the “in the moment” type of anxiety and panic, however this type of medication may lead to abuse and dependency and so frequent use is not recommended.
But what about shyness? Do you feel like you teeter between the two and can’t figure out which it is? They can be a little confusing and surely there are a lot of people out there that use the two terms interchangeably. They are not at all the same. The main difference between shyness and social anxiety is that shyness is a personality trait. This is who are you. Something that cannot be changed. It’s not a bad thing and usually not perceived as a negative trait. Someone who is shy, or introverted, prefers to be alone and do things in solitary but it does not usually negatively impact mental health. Introverts do no experience the negative emotions and feelings that individuals with social anxiety would. Social anxiety is a true mental health disorder that needs to be treated, whether by medication management or therapy. If you think you suffer from social anxiety, we are here to help you explore your treatment options.