If you have social anxiety you may be extremely uncomfortable in social situations and try to avoid them. You may feel intense anxiety about being judged by others and live in fear of doing or saying something shameful or embarrassing. When you do participate socially, it may feel as though there is a spotlight shining on you, and all your mistakes will be visible. Because these situations are so difficult for you, you may not be able to do the things that you would like such as dating, and certain social, school or work activities. A subset of people with social anxiety, experience it only in performance situations, such as public speaking or performing in public.
It is common for social anxiety to co-occur with Panic Disorder, and people frequently think it is panic that’s the problem. The real issue only comes out after someone fully explains their experience in my consultation room. Usually if you have Social anxiety, you are also very worried about the social consequences of having panic attacks or visible anxiety.
Janet came in for a consultation due to having panic attacks. She described that they usually occurred when she was invited to a party. She would notice the anxiety building prior to the party and the day of, she would dread having to go for fear of embarrassing herself. It felt like if she went with other people they would notice if she had to leave early (due to panic) and so she often went by herself and did not enjoy it. Sometimes, she avoided the parties altogether, fearing that her symptoms might get so bad that she would become the laughing stock of her social circle. When she did go, she felt like there was a big spotlight on her and that any social error that she made was magnified.
At the heart of it, social anxiety is about fear of judgment and embarrassment. It makes sense—most of us don’t want to be ousted from our social circle. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense—you were much more likely to survive if you were with your tribe in terms of protection and access to shared resources..
People struggling with social anxiety typically keep their condition a secret and struggle in silence. It’s hard to imagine that other people have the same fears. While a lot of us may get nervous before a speech or going on a date, if you have social anxiety, these tasks may create enormous anxiety and dread. Therefore, people often start avoiding places or situations that create so much anxiety. Social anxiety does not go away on without treatment. Although the symptoms may come and go, without treatment, people often find that the anxiety is limiting them in their career or social life.
The good news is that with proper treatment social anxiety can be helped. It is important to find a therapist that specializes in social anxiety and is experienced in social anxiety treatment. For help in the Chicago area, please contact Dr. Helen Odessky at (847)529-8600.