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What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?


While most people can relate to the experience of feeling some level of social anxiety in their life (often centered around events such as a first date or a job interview), this fear is usually relatively manageable and it fades when the situation has ended. For some people, however, this is not the case. When social anxiety becomes extreme, it may extend into many (if not all) areas of life, be overwhelming, and cause the person great distress. When fear over social situations and interactions reaches this level, that is when one might receive a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.

While I am not a big proponent of labels and diagnoses, it can be helpful to explore some of the signs and symptoms of them in order to provide greater context and understanding for what a person may be going through. That is what I hope to do in this post, but please don't get stuck on trying to determine whether you fit into any specific categories or diagnostic criteria. I want to assure you that whether or not you have received a formal diagnosis of social anxiety, or whether your fears make a major or minor impact on your life, you absolutely deserve support and understanding. You deserve relief from your anxiety!!

 

So what is social anxiety disorder?


While this is an abbreviated and very simplified list, some signs of social anxiety may include:

  • Persistent fear of social situations, largely centered around being judged or negatively evaluated in some way

 

  • Avoidance of feared situations

 

  • Physical anxiety symptoms (ex. racing heart, trembling, blushing, sweating, dizziness, headaches, stomach aches, etc.) that can be overwhelming and/or distressing

 

  • Negative self-beliefs

  • Feelings of being worthless, not good enough, or stupid

 

  • Low self worth and self-esteem

 

  • Worry and rumination

 

  • Struggles with perfectionism

 

  • People pleasing

 

The fear and overwhelm in social anxiety may be isolated to one specific type of situation (ex. public speaking), or, in its more generalized form, it can bleed over into nearly every aspect of life - from meeting new people, interacting with friends or coworkers, talking on the phone, using public washrooms, dating, driving, purchasing items at a store, eating in public, and, in some cases, even leaving the house. The anxiety can really occur on a spectrum, and it is not unusual to find some situations more fear-inducing than others, or to have greater anxiety over social situations at certain points in your life.


Social anxiety can be overwhelming, confusing, shameful, and extremely isolating. It can make even the simplest tasks of daily life feel impossible.




 

If you're experiencing social anxiety, please know that you are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. This is actually one of the most common anxiety disorders, yet it can feel incredibly isolating as there can be so much shame and fear about sharing your experiences. Social anxiety is a very real condition, and there is also so much healing that is possible!


While it can be extremely challenging to deal with, please know that there is hope and you do not have to spend the rest of your life dealing with this debilitating fear. If you see yourself reflected in some of the above descriptions, or you generally feel that you are having anxiety over social situations, please reach out and find support. Counselling (both individual and group) can be a huge factor in healing from your fears.

 

You deserve to be free of this struggle and you do not have to be alone on the journey!

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