Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
During adolescence, I struggled with social anxiety disorder and did not know it. Days at school could feel unbearable. If I was called on in class to read or answer a question, I would start sweating and blushing in anticipation of embarrassing myself. I would get embarrassed about sweating and blushing, which turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Regardless of whether I responded to the teacher appropriately, I would subsequently feel incredibly ashamed of myself. The fact that I had sweated through my shirt would make me feel marked for the rest of the day. I felt like I would never be able to function normally, in a way that seemed effortless for everyone else.
This barely begins to describe the distress of those days. Being called on by a teacher was only one of many scenarios in which I would experience social anxiety. The same was true when participating in group projects, talking to classmates, or speaking to teachers in one-on-one settings. I would delay going to the toilet rather than put up my hand in class, no matter how full my bladder felt.
The worst thing was that I felt completely alone. I believed that no one else felt this way. Only years later did I learn that what I experienced is actually very common.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is a mental illness that affects around 7% of teenagers and adults. It can be extremely difficult to live with, leading to self-esteem issues, trouble functioning in social situations, and difficulty adapting to new environments. This can make it hard for people with a social anxiety disorder to thrive in school or settle in at a new workplace.
Unfortunately, social anxiety disorder is often dismissed with terms like shy, awkward, quiet, or introverted. Many people struggling with social phobia do not believe that they have a problem. Rather, they believe they are the problem. For this reason, they do not get help or even consider it a possibility.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can help you identify it in yourself or in a loved one. It can be treated effectively and simply not having to carry the burden yourself is a massive relief.
To help you identify social phobia, these are some of the signs and symptoms to look out for.
What are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder are generally broken down into different categories. These categories include physical signs and symptoms, as well as emotional or behavioral signs and symptoms.
We tend to think of anxiety as something that occurs in the mind, but it has very physical symptoms. These include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Difficulty speaking
Different people experience different physical symptoms of social phobia. Whether you have experienced one or many of the above symptoms, the determining factor is how much distress they cause you. Many people with a social anxiety disorder will fear the physical symptoms and avoid social interactions because of them.
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms
The emotional and behavioral symptoms of social anxiety disorder lead to a tremendous amount of distress. They include:
- Fear of social situations
- Fear of embarrassing yourself
- Worrying about a social event for days or weeks in advance
- Fear of physical signs of anxiety that will lead to embarrassment
- Avoiding social interactions
- Avoiding social events
- Fear of speaking to strangers
- Analyzing your “performance” in a social interaction after the fact
These symptoms cause consistent distress and make it difficult to function in day-to-day scenarios. They can lead you to avoid work or school, meeting new people or making friends, talking on the phone, going for job interviews, eating in public, and other important social interactions necessary to live the life you want.
Learning about these signs and symptoms did not take my social anxiety away. However, it did relieve me of the burden of believing that I was all alone. I no longer had to hope that I would magically find hidden confidence. Rather, I discovered that I could work towards overcoming my social anxiety.
If you think you may suffer from a social anxiety disorder, reach out to a therapist or psychiatrist as soon as possible. If you see a loved one suffering in silence, consider speaking to them to let them know they are not alone.