We all feel anxious around new people and in new social situations. That’s normal. Just think of the last time you moved to a new city or school. Or went on a first date. A bit of anxiety is normal in all those cases. But when our anxieties in these social situations become debilitating or we start to avoid social situations as a response to the anxiety, that is when we likely move from normal behavior to social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety and social anxiety disorder is a common issue that affects many people. There are both genetic and environmental causes (nature AND nurture). A person might find that social anxiety runs in their family. Or they may find that a traumatic incident in their childhood causes them to become anxious in social situations (example: accidentally soiling yourself as a kid in front of your classmates).

Whatever the reasons for your social anxiety are not important. What’s important to understanding it and looking to deal with it.

Is there a difference between being shy, social anxiety, and social anxiety disorder?

shyness social anxiety disorder spectrum

Shyness, social anxiety, and social anxiety disorder are all related. The easiest way to think of them is that they are simply different parts of the spectrum.

Shyness is a discomfort or feelings of awkwardness when in new social situations or meeting new people. It is commonly used to describe children.

Social anxiety is a higher level of shyness. It is beyond normal shyness and is typically used to describe adults.

Social anxiety disorder, meanwhile, is a high level of shyness or social anxiety and is an official medical term. The term is used by the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (aka DSM), the widely-accepted book of psychological diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association.


How do I know if I have Social Anxiety?

The only difference between Social Anxiety (an actual listed disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) and general shyness is simply the severity.

In general, when your “shyness” gets to the point of you actively avoiding a social situation, you might have Social Anxiety. Here are other signs you may have Social Anxiety:

  • when you’re walking, you avoid making eye contact with people for fear of seeing someone you know
  • if you see someone you know, you don’t say hi or acknowledge them
  • at a party or gathering, you play with gadgets, your phone, the dog, babies instead of having conversations with people
  • the thought of calling someone you don’t know frightens you
  • the thought of calling someone you do know frightens you
  • worrying that you’re going to embarrass yourself or offend others
  • you hate being the center of attention
  • becoming obsessed with negative replies/feedback/gestures from people

To sum things up: you have a fear of social interactions. You feel like you will mess up and are incompetent in social situations. And you avoid social situations when you can or have stress in anticipation of social situations.

The role of anti-anxiety medications and SSRIs

There are no cures for Social Anxiety. There is only medication and overcoming the issues.

Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are medications used to treat symptoms of depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, and anxiety. Common names they go by are Zoloft, Xanax, Paxil. Although many medical professionals will prescribe these drugs, remember they are not cures, but rather, crutches.

The idea of SSRIs is to allow you to function by eliminating your overwhelmingly negative emotions that interfere with your ability to live life regularly. And for those with temporary symptoms (death of a loved one, getting into an accident) SSRIs work wonderfully. Social Anxiety, however, is not a temporary issue, it is a long-term one. For that reason, anyone taking SSRIs with Social Anxiety needs to understand that the SSRIs are only a crutch — you still need to undergo rehabilitation of some sort.

Social Anxiety: the poor get poorer

People with Social Anxiety will often have a series of unsatisfying social interactions in their lives. They may start out a small incident.

Maybe in high school you moved to a new school and tried to make friends. You sat at someone’s table and introduced yourself. Then they just ignored you. And it hurt. And it felt embarrassing. Then you tried to make friends with some other people. They ignored you too. You lose confidence. In class, you start talking less. You become less outgoing. You start to fear that the teacher will call on your in class. Now the loss of confidence in social situations spillsover to other parts of your life. When you go to church, you avoid introducing for fear of being rejected. You see some neighborhood kids, but don’t introduce yourself because you fear being ridiculed. Then you graduate high school and go to college. You try to reinvent yourself. Become outgoing. You start making friends. Then you go to your first college party and chat some people up. They think you’re awkward and excuse themselves. The memories of being a social reject creep back in and you forget all the successes you’ve had so far and go back into your shell, where it is safe.

The above is just an imaginary scenario, but it rings true with a lot of people with Social Anxiety: you develop anxieties in social situations, you then begin avoiding social situations, you become retarded in your social development and social skills, that leads to subpar social performance, which further discourage your social interaction. The poor get poorer.

The Fix. Step 1: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and rethinking how you think

A big part of social anxiety lies in the mental dialogue that goes on in our minds.