Social Anxiety isn't a Synonym for Shyness

By: Courtney Derksen (@CourtneyDerksen)

Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness that is often thrown into a conversation but often times, not correctly used. It isn't just describing someone that is shy or not a fan of speaking in front of people. It is so much more than that and can be quite disabling for a person because their fear and anxiety is out of proportion in frequency and/or duration to the situation that they are in.

Symptoms of social anxiety must last six months or longer in order to actually be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder by a professional. They can now be diagnosed while the individual is a child or an adult. Individuals suffer distress in their everyday life that significantly interferes with their routine.

For a child, signs of social anxiety disorder can include severe and prolonged crying or tantrums, becoming physically immobilized, shrinking away from other people, extreme clingyness, and being unable to speak in social situations.

For teenagers and adults, symptoms may include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness, headaches and a feeling that they have lost self-control. They experience an intense fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others in social or performance situations and some can even feel sick from fear in what others would deem as a nonthreatening situation.

Treatment for social anxiety disorder includes therapy as well as medication sometimes, depending on the circumstances. Antidepressants can be used to reduce the anxiety and depression that is related to it. For people who have social anxiety in many situations, they will often need both professional counseling as well as medication while those who fear only a few social situations may find that they only need counseling.

The main type of therapy a person with social anxiety disorder would receive is cognitive-behavioral therapy which could include exposure therapy, social skills training, and cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps someone identify what situations provoke their anxiety. In exposure therapy, a counselor will help the individual face the feared situation gradually until eventually there is no fear related to the situation. Social skills training allows for one to develop the skills they need in social situations through rehearsing and role-playing. This reduces anxiety because the individual feels more prepared for the feared social situations. Lastly, cognitive restructuring helps a person with social anxiety disorder to learn to identify and improve their fearful thinking in order to handle social situations better.

Social anxiety is a very real mental illness and there needs to be more awareness surrounding it because it is not simple and can not be seen as something one can "just get over." However, if you or someone you know thinks that they do have social anxiety disorder, talk to someone because it CAN be treated. You do not have to constantly suffer through social situations or feel that you need to miss out on things because you are unable to handle it. Asking for help is not something shameful or embarrassing, I truly believe that it is so courageous and strong. It shows that you want things to change and want to take care of yourself, so don't let stigma or a fear of judgment hold you back!

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