‘Regular’ social anxiety is known to all of us as an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness. Many people have particular worries about social situations like public speaking or talking to authority figures, or experience more general feelings of shyness or a lack of confidence.
For some, however, these social anxieties and fears can become much more troubling and difficult to cope with. Everyday tasks which most people take for granted – such as working, socialising, shopping, speaking on the telephone, even just going out of the house – might be a wearing ordeal marked by persistent feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness. Public performances or social gatherings might be out of the question.
When the social anxiety becomes this bad, sufferers could be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia. Shyness is not a criteria for diagnosis. Sufferers differ in how naturally reserved or outgoing they may be and in regard to the sorts of situations or people they might find most difficult or might be OK with. Individuals who are particularly socially inhibited, avoidant and sensitive to criticism or rejection may meet criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder, now seen by many as only the more extreme or generalised end of an ‘SA spectrum’.
Sufferers typically experience excessive feelings of nervousness or dread in relation to feared social situations. They may experience specific physical symptoms such as trembling, rapid breathing, sweating or blushing. At the extreme, panic attacks can occur. Sufferers tend to be very self-conscious and worried about whether others might be evaluating them negatively. They tend to ruminate over past social incidents, worrying about how they might have come across.
At a deeper level, sufferers can experience chronic insecurity about their relationships with others, hypersensitivity to criticism, or fears of being rejected by others. Many people can go through this kind of experience during adolescence, but for SA’ers the problems can persist well beyond those years. Over time, many sufferers come to avoid the situations they fear or become very inhibited or defensive in situations, often leading to depression and loneliness.
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