Before my husband and I were married, he worked a swing shift of 2 pm to 11 pm.
We always had plenty of time to go grocery shopping before he went to work. But we never did.
Instead, We would go grocery shopping between 12 and 1 am. Why?
Because hardly anyone is in the store that early in the morning! It’s not that I dislike people overall, it’s the fact I have social anxiety.
That’s what social anxiety does to you. You fear leaving your house and having to be seen by anyone or interact with them in any way.
There are many phobias that people have. However, I’ve found social anxiety to be one of the worst fears out there because it truly has the potential to interfere and destroy your life.
While everyday shopping trips, doctor’s appointments, working and millions of other day-to-day tasks are not a big deal for most people, these are huge things for people with a social phobia.
All these little tasks can bring on full-blown panic attacks.
Those with the disorder are not shy or meek, they have an ongoing and underlying phobia of day-to-day interactions.
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Facts About Social Anxiety
It Is More Common Than You Think!
Within the realm of anxiety disorders lies many subcategories of anxiety types including obsessive-compulsive, separation anxiety, specific phobias, and more.
Of the different types of anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common type of anxiety disorder diagnosed affecting more than 3 million people.
But you can be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder.
Like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety is actually considered to be common affecting approximately 200,000 people per year according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you have social anxiety, know that you are not alone!
Those With Social Anxiety Are At An increased risk for addiction
It is easy to see how someone with a social phobia would be at an increased risk of developing a dependence on alcohol or drugs.
Sometimes, people (with a mental illness or not) use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings or to mask these emotions.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 20% of those suffering from social anxiety are also dealing with a substance abuse problem.
When you are feeling in a constant panic about social situations like work, conversations, driving places, it’s easy to grab for a substance of some kind including cigarettes’ to try and manage the turmoil within.
The problem with using any addictive substance to mask your pain with a phobia is…
A: You’re not using positive coping methods to try and overcome the phobia
B: You now are struggling with a co-occurring disorder of both an addiction and an anxiety disorder
We’re Not “Antisocial”
I hate the term “antisocial” being used for people with anxiety disorders! Calling someone antisocial should only be reserved if the individual has clear signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Labeling someone with anxiety as “antisocial” could not be further from the truth.
Those with a social phobia actually do have a need to be around others and interact on a normal basis.
The problem is that they cannot because of the overwhelming anxiety and panic they experience in social situations.
But just because someone has social anxiety does not mean they are “antisocial,” “shy,” “meek,” or any other term that does not describe who that person is.
Chances are when you notice someone in public who looks worried, on the verge of terms, or may have a “resting bitch face” they are trying to hold their composure together in public because they are afraid of “losing it” in front of strangers.
Panic attacks are very real and they do happen frequently to individuals with a social phobia.
Making and Keeping Friends Is Difficult
Don’t blame or take it personally when your friend is always canceling plans or starts becoming shaky or crying when you go to leave the house for dinner and a movie.
Those with social anxiety want to be included in everyday social interactions, but it’s always easier to avoid social interactions as a way of dealing with a phobia.
Unfortunately, not every social interaction and situation can be avoided which is why it’s so tough for those with the disorder to function day in and day out.
This is why it’s so tough for socially anxious people- When friends and family do not understand your anxiety toward social situations, they only see someone who wants to avoid every normal human situation.
Like Any Other Mental Disorder, You Can’t Just “Snap Out Of It”
Those without disorders that affect your daily life never understand how difficult it can be.
Therefore, many of those with depression, anxiety, and more are simply told to “snap out of it” or it’s only a phase.
Sooner or later someone with a social phobia will get over it, right?
Social anxiety is something that does develop with time and becomes worse.
While exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy do help manage and reduce phobias, a social phobia is much different than a specific phobia.
For those with a specific phobia like heights, they can simply avoid heights altogether. Never work in a 12th-floor office building. Stay off ladders.
But with a phobia of any and all social interactions, simply talking to a stranger is terrifying.
You walk away feeling in a panic because you’re terrified you said the wrong thing and looked stupid in front of someone else.
Then you spend weeks (yes, even years) after overanalyzing that conversation in your head to figure out how it could have gone better or what you need to do better next time.
You’re constantly thinking about what others think about you instead of being self-confident within yourself.
This continues for years at a time until eventually, you fear every little interaction that comes your way, even ordering a coffee in the drive-thru Starbucks line (you still have to order and see someone to get your drink).
Little things like that are a big deal!
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Genetics May Play A Role In Developing Social Anxiety
Anxiety and depression tend to run in families. If you have a family member with a history of anxiety and/or depression then you are also at an increased risk of suffering from an anxiety disorder.
While a family member may have generalized anxiety disorder, that doesn’t mean you will automatically receive GAD or you may have a different type of anxiety disorder.
It is estimated that the heritability of getting social anxiety disorder is around 30 to 40 percent.
That means if you have a family member with social anxiety, you have a 30-40% chance of also having it.
However, while research can only estimate this number the odds of having social anxiety depend on a combination of environmental facts and genetics.
Other social anxiety risk factors:
-Early traumatic events
-Overly critical parents
-Observing others with social phobia
-Lack of socialization in early upbringing
Social anxiety is very real and can become unmanageable as time goes on.
Although some suffer from the disorder that becomes socially anxious very suddenly due to a specific embarrassing social interaction, most with social anxiety are not embarrassed by one single event that haunts us forever.
Instead, it’s an accumulation of small events through time that cause an increase in social phobia.
If you have social phobia know that you are not alone.
Others, including myself, suffer with it in silence hoping to God we will magically get over one day with fewer social interactions.
But lessening your social interactions is not dealing with the problem.
Social interactions are a necessary part of life. We have to work, drop the kids off at school, go grocery shopping.
It’s not going to get any easier!
I know this because I try to avoid social situations at all costs, but I can’t avoid everything.
Although an SSRI medication does help, the social anxiety is still there and it’s important to know the above facts about those with social anxiety to spread awareness.
Only with awareness do those without the disorder begin to understand how mentally taxing it is, and how we’re all trying hard to conquer our social phobia.