It’s actually quite common for some of us to feel embarrassed when we are in a public place or while we are in social situations, especially when we are required to perform (e.g. a dance, or a theatre show) or deliver a speech. In such situations, we are afraid that others will judge us, ridicule us; our hands sweat profusely, our knees tremble and our hands quake with fear. This is especially true for those who are shyer or more introverted.
But there is a difference between normal shyness or embarrassment and the debilitating levels of fear and anxiety people with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD, also known as Social Phobia) must have felt when they are exposed to the same setting.
So let’s discuss that in this article.
Shyness vs. Social Anxiety Disorder
Shyness is a common feeling or emotion that we have when we encounter situations we are unfamiliar with (though for some people, shyness may also be present even in familiar settings as well). We don’t know what to say, or we don’t know how to behave; we feel awkward, out of place, and we blush and avoid eye contact, and we stutter and bumble through sentences and conversations.
But shyness is a PERSONALITY TRAIT. So it is relatively stable, across all situations. Those who are shy may be apprehensive and reluctant to enter a social situation, but they can still get through it or endure it fine enough. They might think about how humiliating it is prior to the event, but they are still able to at least go there.
The key difference that separates shyness (a personality trait) and SAD (a mental disorder) can be differentiated along the following three aspects:
- The levels of intensity of their fears of social settings, social situations, socializing
- The extent to which they will go to, in order to avoid social settings
- How much it affects their daily functioning (work, life, Social (of course))
So to use an example to illustrate this difference between SAD and shyness, before we move on to SAD’s definition and symptom:
- People who are shy may worry about an upcoming party, but they can still go, and while they are occupied the party won’t enter their minds.
- People with SAD may worry about an upcoming party two weeks prior to the event, as soon as they heard of it and is invited to it. They might lose sleep because they keep thinking about it, and is anxious about it. They might come up with various ways just so they can avoid being there. They might notice that their fears are unfounded, unrealistic, totally out of proportion, but they can’t control it.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a mental disorder characterized by the intense fear and anxiety of social situations. It can be about having a conversation with others, or when being observed by others (fear of being judged or scrutinized), or when they performing in front of others.
People with SAD fear judgment, that their actions (or the fact that their symptoms might be obvious to others) will offend others, will lead to humiliation, embarrassment, and possibly rejection.
They experience fear and anxiety while in social situations, with some physical symptoms as well, such as shaking, blushing, an increased heart rate, etc. People with SAD will find ways to avoid such a situation, or if they can’t they will endure it with intense levels of anxiety.
The fear and anxiety levels that people with SAD experienced must also be way out of proportion to the actual levels of threat such a situation will pose to any individual.
These symptoms must be present for at least six months (according to the DSM-5) and must cause significant levels of distress and disruption towards daily functioning, in order to be diagnosed with SAD.
(Of course, don’t self-diagnose. If you suspect you or those around you have this condition, then do seek out professional advice from qualified clinical psychologists near you.)
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
When it comes to the treatment for SAD, it all depends upon the severity of a particular case. Treatment may include medication, or psychotherapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT), or in some cases, both. It has been shown by many research that medication, when combined with psychotherapy, will be much more effective than when it is used alone.
The goal of treatment is always to make an individual more able to function on a day-to-day basis. In the case of SAD, or anxiety disorders in general, it is to help clients be more able to engage in their daily lives.
And perhaps with the right kind of help, you may find that the fruits that the first frightening steps towards change yields, they are worth it, they are always worth it. Know that there will always be people who support you and that your fear does not define you.
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