Have you ever felt scared, sick, or worried before you gave a presentation at work or school? Typically, anxiety in this type of situation is called “performance anxiety,” and it is extremely common. The symptoms of performance anxiety – which, again, are widely accepted as commonplace – is comparable to one of the most common types of anxiety disorders that isn’t as widely understood or accepted: social anxiety disorder.
The difference between someone with a manageable amount of performance anxiety and someone with a social anxiety disorder comes down the severity of their symptoms. If your anxiety is causing you immense stress that affects your ability to function in a day-to-day social setting, then you may have a social anxiety disorder. For example, having slight butterflies before going to a party is a common occurrence that almost everyone deals with, but it won’t prevent most people from attending. Sweating, shaking, feeling very nauseous, and having negative and self-harmful thoughts is severe and disproportionate, and could be a sign that you have social anxiety.
Social anxiety negatively impacts both your physical and mental health. Hot flashes, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations are all physical symptoms that can occur and, over time, put stress on your cardiovascular health. It can also impact your overall mood and self-esteem. If you often think to yourself that you’re an “embarrassment” or that you are “just going to cause trouble”, you may have some form of social anxiety. These thoughts can lead to much bigger consequences over time – depression and a dependence on drugs and alcohol may coincide with social anxiety. Additionally, if you find yourself constantly coming up with excuses to get out of social situations, you cut yourself off from a vital part of your social development: just being around other people.
Some people prefer to spend time alone, and others love being around a crowd. If you are the type of person that likes to be alone, that is not necessarily indicative that there is anything “wrong.” However, if you are actively avoiding social situations in order to reduce feelings of anxiety or stress – then you should seek help. Social anxiety is a serious disorder, but it can be treated. If you believe that you have social anxiety, see your doctor or therapist as soon as possible and let them know how you feel. If you have trouble talking to them, it’s perfectly reasonable to bring a close friend or family member with you to help explain your feelings.