Do you find it hard to socialise with other people? Do you feel overwhelmed at the thought of going to a social event? It can be very easy to confuse social anxiety disorder and shyness, since they share many of the same characteristics. So, while shyness is a personality trait, the disorder is a mental illness and affects our day to day lives in a very different way. Here are eight indicators that may point towards social anxiety.
1. You are always self conscious
One aspect of social anxiety is the extreme fear of being judged. According to professionals, if you have social anxiety, you constantly worry about the way you look or act and, most importantly, what others think of you. Furthermore, the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others is significant. On the other hand, a shy person will only worry about being judged in certain situations, like in public speaking or when meeting someone new.
2. Your anxiety feels out of hand
There are times when it is normal to feel shy or nervous around other people, for example when you move to a new school or workplace, or having to perform in front of an audience. But social anxiety is often irrational and unwarranted. You may feel distressed about things as simple as making eye contact with someone, using public transport or even eating in front of other people. The fear is always there, and may bring about avoidant behaviour.
3. It interferes with your performance
Have you ever called in sick to work or not gone to school when your anxiety became too overwhelming? Perhaps you kept quiet when you were having difficulties in specific work or projects? Social anxiety can impact your performance in many ways, with the constant fear of people’s judgement. What’s more, you might even be at the point where you are afraid to do well to avoid drawing attention to yourself and the work which you have done. Pitching your ideas, joining groups and sharing your thoughts with others create such anxiety that sufferers just don’t do them.
4. It affects your relationships
While it is hard to make friends when you are shy, it can feel almost impossible when you have social anxiety. For a shy person, it’s usually about breaking the ice and going through the initial awkwardness of meeting and getting to know each other. Whereas having social anxiety can complicate your relationships. You might feel tense and uneasy around people, no matter how close you are or how long you’ve known them.
5. It doesn’t go away with familiarity
It’s normal to feel shy at the beginning of a new relationship or routine. But, as you grow used to things, the tension will start to subside. This isn’t the case if you have social anxiety. Instead, you are likely to experience fear, distress and embarrassment whenever you’re around other people. It normally doesn’t matter if it’s your parents, siblings or best friend. You feel uneasy and stressed, unless you’re alone.
6. You over-analyse everything
Do you find yourself saying things to yourself like: “I took too long to reply to that message and now they’ll be annoyed at me.” or “They didn’t speak to me earlier because they’re upset with something I’ve done.” Social anxiety can make you obsess over your social interactions with others. You may spend a lot of time and energy analysing the facial expressions, body language and tone of voice of others, to understand if they really mean what they are saying.
7. You avoid social situations
Are you often absent or late to social gatherings? It is a serious matter if your social anxiety leads you to avoid social situations altogether. You might decline social invitations, refuse to speak in front of people and perhaps even rather sit in the corner to avoid being noticed or mingle with anyone else. Placing yourself in an isolated situation is quite common for those with social anxiety.
8. You have physical symptoms
Do you feel nausea, dizziness or chest palpitations when you are in social situations?
Like other anxiety disorders, social anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms. Some common ones are sweaty palms, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and trembling. Importantly, you’ll be able to recognise these if you only show these symptoms when anticipating or being out in a social setting.
These are all possible indicators that you may have social anxiety. The important thing is to recognise that it isn’t a negative thing and you most certainly are not alone. Try the free social anxiety test or learn more about exposure therapy for social anxiety.