As the name would suggest, someone who suffers from social anxiety experiences extreme levels of discomfort and nervousness during social situations. It is one of the most common forms of anxiety, particularly in young people.
Individuals with this form of anxiety are often very self-conscious, concerned about embarrassing or humiliating themselves around other people. Many feel they are being judged harshly by others, making them worry about everything they do or say. They believe their anxiety is visible for all to see. They often go over every small detail of an interaction repeatedly in their head, analyzing details anyone else likely did not even pick up on.
While some individuals experience social anxiety in any social setting, many only fear particular situations. Meaning, perhaps they are quite comfortable spending time with their close knit friends or family, but once surrounded by strangers, colleagues, or peers, suddenly their anxiety kicks into full gear. Similarly, prior to a social event they may appear relaxed and “normal” while at home. That said, after returning home from a social outing, they may suddenly become consumed by anxiety - analyzing every last detail of the event that just transpired.
Physical Symptoms (presenting during or prior to social interactions):
Those with social anxiety sometimes get trapped in a negative feedback loop. For example, say this individual is very anxious about an upcoming gathering. Prior to even arriving at said event, they are likely already thinking about how the day is going to play out. They are worrying about nobody wanting to talk to them, or - perhaps even worse - someone does want to talk to them but they will say the “wrong thing” or “make a fool of themselves”. This means, they are going into the event already in a negative head space and will want to distance themselves from others, thereby practicing avoidance behaviours (ie. wear headphones, stand alone in a corner, avoid eye contact, etc.)
Now, other individuals at this gathering may wrongly judge this person as being shy, quiet, unhappy, unapproachable, etc. This then further feeds the social anxiety as less people are likely to interact with them, and the negative cycle continues.
This is why it is so important that if you are aware (or suspect) someone is struggling from social anxiety, to make a concentrated effort to make them feel wanted and safe. Make sure they know that they belong, and that nobody is judging them. Provide an environment where they feel comfortable being themselves, while staying cognizant of the fact that some activities or interactions may be difficult or uncomfortable for them, and that’s ok. You’re there to support them.
* Please note that NO information provided by Cam’s Kids Foundation is intended or implied to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content and information is for general information purposes only. Please speak to your health care practitioner regarding any questions you may have, or to confirm a diagnosis.
For more information:
Uneasy Lives: Understanding anxiety disorders. (2000) Linda Bayer. The encyclopedia of psychological disorders . editors: Carol C. Nadelson, Claire E. Reinburg. Chelsea house publishers. philadelphia