Social anxiety can be described as an irrational fear of social situations that is so persistent that it begins to interfere with a person’s life and well being. Social anxiety commonly involves a fear of being judged, scrutinized, or being embarrassed in front of others. A person who suffers from social anxiety will often also experience physical symptoms along with their fear, such as sweating, blushing, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, or trembling. There may be certain places or situations that trigger these symptoms. Many people with social anxiety have an intense fear of parties, public speaking, or eating in public.
The causes of social anxiety are still not completely clear, but many experts think it may be developed during adolescence. There are a few factors that can contribute to it, including not learning proper social skills, growing up with overprotective parenting, and a lack of experience in social situations that helps children develop skills and judgement. By not spending enough time socializing with others, a child may become fearful of unknown situations or interacting with others. Social anxiety is especially hard on individuals because many of those who suffer from it are too afraid, confused, or embarrassed to tell someone about their problem. Often times this leads to depression and other issues.
How social anxiety can impact a person’s life.
Social anxiety has a profound effect on the quality of a person’s life, especially when it comes to relationships and regular day to day functioning. Going to school, work, social functions, and other daily events become difficult. A person with social anxiety will falsely believe that others are ridiculing them, against them, or are trying to embarrass them by inviting them out to social functions. These kinds of negative beliefs about others makes it hard to have healthy relationships with others or enjoy themselves in public. Even simple acts like talking on the telephone, eating in a restaurant, or handing a cashier money can seem frightening.
All of the psychological symptoms of social anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms that are unpleasant and make the anxiety seem even more real. Experiencing sweating, faintness, blushing, diarrhea, or headaches make it much easier to avoid social situations altogether. The symptoms may also seem overwhelming. A person with social anxiety will often believe that others are noticing them more than they really are. Avoiding people, places, and certain situations is a very common practice for those with social anxiety.
Other issues that may arise.
In addition to depression, it is also very common for those with social anxiety to begin abusing drugs or alcohol. Teenagers and young adults especially may begin using marijuana or alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of fear and nervousness that often arise. As they begin to rely more and more on these substances to cope with their symptoms, a dependence on substances will begin to develop. Drugs and alcohol may create a feeling of confidence and closeness with others at the time of use, but their effects are temporary. As the drugs or alcohol begin to wear off, a person will find themselves returning to their original feelings of isolation and depression. Oftentimes using drugs will only exacerbate those feelings. Self medication with drugs or alcohol is very common among those with social anxiety. If left untreated, it may lead to abuse of harder drugs and full blown addiction.
It’s important to get treatment for social anxiety, especially if self medication with drugs or alcohol has begun. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication can help.