Social anxiety is one of the most debilitating forms of anxiety because us humans are inherently social creatures. Our lives almost inevitably involve social interactions. Unlike specific phobias such as elevators, heights, or needles--which people can generally avoid if they want to--how does one navigate life as a human without being social? Thus, social anxiety can be a source of incredibly intense dread and psychological pain.
In everyday conversation, people sometimes use the phrase "social anxiety" to mean slight nervousness or true-blue social anxiety disorder. What's the difference? How can you tell if you're experiencing social anxiety by an official mental health definition?
In the world of mental health in the U.S., the DSM-5 tends to be the most commonly cited big book of mental health disorders (the ICD is another version of this, also used in the U.S. and more common internationally).
According to the DSM-5 (APA, 2013) definition, here are eight symptoms of social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. There are technically ten symptoms total, but for the sake of this infographic I condensed the last three into one ("not another cause").
Here they are in list and infographic form:
You may experience fear of social situations, such as having a conversation, being observed, or performing in front of others
You may fear that in these social situations people will negatively evaluate you, resulting in your feeling humiliated or embarrassed, being rejected by others, or offending others
You almost always feel fear or anxiety in these social situations, with only rare exceptions
You either avoid the situations entirely whenever possible or you endure them with intense fear/anxiety
The fear/anxiety you experience in the social situations may be out of proportion to the actual threat posed by them and the fear/anxiety may not be typical for your own sociocultural context
The fear/anxiety has been persistent for at least 6 months or more
The fear/anxiety may cause you to be significantly distressed (bothered) or it may negatively affect your life in important ways (relationships, work, school, arts, sports, etc.)
The fear/anxiety is not primarily caused by something else, such as a substance (drug or medication) or another medical or mental health condition
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that everyone's experiences of social anxiety are different, and symptoms can vary from person to person. If you want to know if your experiences qualifies as an official "social anxiety disorder (social phobia)" by a commonly used mental health definition in the U.S., that's the list to look through.
If you are suffering from social anxiety, it's important to seek mental health treatment. Treatment can help you overcome social anxiety by bolstering your social confidence and desensitizing you to social situations so that they don't spike your anxiety as much. This is a gradual process of "turning the dial down" from a 10 to something more like a 2 or 3. Remember that all humans feel a low level of nervousness in social interactions from time to time, but mental health treatment can make life much more livable for people with social anxiety!
Here are 68 coping skills to try for anxiety or depression today
Dr. Parke is a licensed clinical psychologist located in southern California. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Vanguard University, and she also provides therapy to children, teenagers, and college-aged young adults in her private practice.
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