Do You Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

Many people get nervous when they have to speak in public, or feel shy around people they don't know well. But when does it stop being nerves or shyness and become something more serious? About 15 million people, 6.8% of the US population, suffer from a condition known as social anxiety. What's shocking is that 36% of people with social anxiety live with the symptoms for 10 years or more before they seek treatment. That suggests that many people with social anxiety don't realize that they have a treatable condition. Take a look at some of the signs that you may have social anxiety disorder.

Anxiety in Social Situations

Social anxiety is more than just feeling nervous when you're in front of a large crowd or in an unfamiliar situation. People with social anxiety may feel anxious or distressed in more ordinary situations, like when they have to answer the phone or speak to cashiers at the store. They may have difficulty making small talk at a party or talking to anyone who seems like an authority figure.

In addition to feeling anxious, people suffering from social anxiety may experience intrusive thoughts in social situations. For example, you may think that you're being judged, criticized, or mocked, even though no one has said anything to indicate that.

Physical Symptoms

Social anxiety is not just something that happens inside your head. Your body reacts to the situation that you're anxious about, and that means that you experience very real physical symptoms as well. Physical symptoms of social anxiety include blushing, dry mouth, sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty swallowing.

You may also experience stomach problems, like indigestion. If you already have a condition that affects your digestive system, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety may trigger a flare-up. You may also experience insomnia or other sleep disturbances. This can happen when you're worrying about a social situation that you expect to face soon or rehashing one that you've faced recently.

Interference With Daily Activities

In the end, what separates social anxiety from ordinary shyness is the effect that it has on your ability to live your life. For example, if your anxiety is so strong that you can't bring yourself to answer the phone or go to the store because you're worried about interacting with strangers, then the condition is preventing you from performing ordinary activities. If it takes so much mental and emotional energy to participate in a meeting at your workplace that you're exhausted for the rest of the day, or if you find yourself calling in sick or skipping meetings altogether, then your anxiety is interfering with your ability to work.

Social anxiety is very treatable. Mental health professionals use behavioral-cognitive therapy or prescription medications – or a combination of the two – to help people overcome social anxiety. Only a mental health professional can give you a diagnosis and recommend treatment. If you think you may be suffering from social anxiety, ask your primary care physician for a referral to an experienced mental healthcare provider in your area or Commonweath Affiliates PC.