At first glance, people perceive a person that is reserved and quiet to be antisocial or shy. Although either option could be true, most people have an underlying issue that is the cause for their quietness.
Social anxiety is a mental disorder that plagues many people, affecting areas of their lives, such as the ability to socialize with others.
I have always been the type to refrain from social interactions. As a kid, I was very shy, quiet and reserved. I expected to leave this state once reaching adulthood, but since being in college, my social anxiety has intensified. I fear the idea of public speaking, being the center of attention, or even having to introduce myself.
Social anxiety disorder, also referred to as SAD or social phobia, is said to be “the third largest mental health care problem in the world today.” It can be defined as the fear or anxiety of social interactions with people. According to mayoclinic.org, these interactions can generate fear, anxiety or embarrassment in a person because they “fear being scrutinized or judged by others.”
The biggest factor that prevents me from interacting with others is the possibility of embarrassment. Whenever I say or do something I perceive to have been embarrassing, I tend to replay the moment in my head over and over. It is almost like my thoughts are mentally torturing my mind.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a nonprofit organization aimed at providing treatment options for anxiety and other related disorders “through education, practice, and research.” According to their website, about 6.8 percent of citizens in the U.S. are affected by social anxiety disorder. The disorder can occur in people as early as 13 and is most prevalent in adults 18 and older.
The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization that too seeks to provide help to others through education and research. According to their website, there are various symptoms for SAD, but displaying nervousness or shyness in certain situations does not necessarily mean a person has the disorder.
“Comfort levels in social situations vary, depending on personality traits and life experiences.”
Symptoms can include fear of social interactions that can cause embarrassment or judgement, being anxious during social interactions or a feared event, or avoiding eye contact, public speaking or situations that might draw attention to you. These symptoms are often accompanied by nervousness, sweating, blushing, nausea or an accelerated heartbeat.
Since becoming a writer for Oxford Stories, I have let my social anxiety hinder my work. It takes so much to build up the courage to introduce myself to a stranger in hopes that they would consider doing an interview.
ADAA’s website states that: “Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9 percent of those suffering receive treatment.” They performed a survey in 2007 in which it was discovered that people with SAD went 10 years or more without seeking professional help. This condition can also result in people developing other disorders such as depression.
Social anxiety disorder can stem from environmental and biological factors. Mayoclinic.org reports that SAD can result from genetics, inherited behavior in relations to environment or an “overactive amygdala.”
The website also adds that “children who experience teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule or humiliation may be more prone to social anxiety disorder. In addition, other negative events in life, such as family conflict, trauma or abuse, may be associated with social anxiety disorder.”
If left untreated, SAD can affect various areas of a person’s life, such as their social skills, self-esteem and academic and career success. Others might turn to substance abuse, or even worse, commit or attempt to commit suicide.
The development of social anxiety disorder is so unpredictable, but it is important to seek help the minute symptoms occur. Such ways to seek professional help are through therapy, medication and other alternative approaches.
Mayoclinic.org also encourages people to spend their time and energy doing things that are enjoyable and make a journal of their personal lives so doctors could determine what is causing stress and/or anxiety.
Something that has been helping me tremendously with my anxiety is attending Chi Alpha. This Christian ministry helps me strengthen my faith in God and work on social interactions.
Whenever I encounter stressful situations, I refer to one of the Chi Alpha members who then prays over me. Being around supportive, positive people also helps decrease my anxiety.
I haven’t been diagnosed with SAD, but I find it hard to participate in social interactions. The realization is that many people suffer with this disorder, which affects their life tremendously. It’s curable, but one must seek help before the anxiety worsens.