What Is Social Anxiety? It's More Than Severe Shyness

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With a dry mouth and thrumming heart, you clench a wine glass and try to focus on the conversation at hand. Everyone at the reception seems nice enough, and they're lobbing gentle conversation openers at you regularly. But you soon excuse yourself to the bathroom, and, feeling defeated, slip out to your car before the bouquet toss. The anxiety has won again, even at your dear friend's wedding. So what is social anxiety, and how does the condition disrupt everyday life for sufferers?

Sometimes mistaken for shyness, social anxiety is not a condition you would wish on anyone. According to WebMD, social anxiety is a disorder that causes a person extreme fear of social interactions, as well as self-consciousness about being criticized and judged by others. Basically, social anxiety can make a routine trip to the grocery store feel as nerve-wracking as a root canal.

Moreover, the typical symptoms of a social anxiety disorder can make everyday life heartbreakingly difficult. According to the Mayo Clinic, the typical emotional and behavioral symptoms of a social anxiety disorder includes an intense fear of judgement, humiliation, or embarrassment. To avoid these feelings, people with a social anxiety disorder may avoid parties, dating, work, school, or even public restrooms, as further explained by the Mayo Clinic. And, to make matters worse, the side effects of a social anxiety disorder can sometimes manifest as physical symptoms, too. As explained by the Social Anxiety Association, additional symptoms include a racing heart, dry mouth, muscle twitches, and trembling. Basically, everything about the disorder works to make the person feel extreme discomfort in social situations.

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What's more, the condition itself can make it difficult for social anxiety sufferers to seek help. In fact, 36 percent of persons who deal with a social anxiety disorder have symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). This is a terribly long time to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Furthermore, although the disorder works to make sufferers feel like the odd one out, social anxiety is extremely common. In fact, approximately 15 million adults in the United States are affected by social anxiety disorder, as noted by the ADAA.

Fortunately, most anxiety disorders do respond well to treatment. As explained by the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety is typically treated with some combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medications. If you're concerned about an issue with social phobia, don't hesitate to speak to a doctor or counselor: help is definitely available. You don't have to dread social situations forever.