What is Social Anxiety?
It is common to feel some anxiety in social situations from time to time. Many of us feel anxious when we’re at a job interview, on a first date, or giving a speech. We all want to make a good impression and be liked. However, some people feel very nervous and uncomfortable in social situations. Individuals with social anxiety worry a great deal about doing something embarrassing and others thinking badly of them. They tend to be very self-conscious and constantly feel “on stage.” While some people with social anxiety fear lots of different social situations (e.g., meeting new people, going to parties, starting conversations, being the centre of attention, ordering food in a restaurant, etc.), some people only get anxious in very specific situations (e.g., public speaking). When faced with feared social situations, individuals with social anxiety tend to experience the following:
- Thoughts: negative thoughts about themselves (e.g. “I’ll say something stupid,” “I’ll look anxious,” “I’ll have nothing interesting to say”) and how other people will react to them (e.g. “People won’t like me,” “Classmates will think I’m boring,” “Colleagues will think I’m weird”)
- Feelings: anxiety, fear, nervousness, embarrassment, shame
- Body reactions: sweating, blushing, trembling, shaking, racing heart, upset stomach, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, choking sensations, dry mouth
- Behaviours: avoidance of social situations (e.g., skipping the party, not going to a meeting or class, saying “no” to social plans with friends) and the use of safety behaviours, which include any actions used to try and feel safer and less anxious in a social situation (e.g., saying very little, avoiding eye contact, rehearsing what you say before you say it, not expressing your opinion, using alcohol or drugs).
When does social anxiety become a problem?
Social anxiety becomes a problem or is considered a disorder when it feels intense, happens a lot, causes us distress, and affects different parts of our lives including:
- Work and school (e.g., missing work or school, trouble participating in meetings or classes, poor performance at work or school, not pursing certain school programs or jobs/careers, and difficulty talking to bosses and co-workers or teachers and other students)
- Relationships and friendships (e.g., difficulty making and keeping friends, trouble dating, and difficulties being assertive and opening up to people)
- Recreational activities and hobbies (e.g., avoiding trying new activities or joining things such as going to the gym, joining a running club, or taking an art class)
- Day-to-day activities (e.g., difficulty completing daily activities such as grocery shopping, ordering food at a restaurant, making phone calls, asking for help, and using public transit) More…
Original fact sheet: Canadian Psychological Association