Social anxiety, or social phobia, is a mental health condition in which an individual has “marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others” (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5).
Anxiety in general can be described as a state in which one is fearful of something bad happening in the future and with social anxiety, the “something bad” is being negatively judged or evaluated by others. The fear of scrutiny produces anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate, sweating, freezing or difficulty breathing.
What Does Social Anxiety Look Like?
Those that struggle with social anxiety often say that they are worried about being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. Not surprisingly, those that experience social anxiety tend to avoid social settings. For example, an adolescent who is experiencing fear of being judged as stupid or unlikeable by peers at school may prefer to do home schooling or may avoid talking in class.
An adult who is fearful of being judged as weird or awkward may avoid going into retail stores or restaurants. Performance anxiety is a particular type of social anxiety and involves being afraid of performing or speaking in front of others (e.g., giving a speech at school or having to talk in a company meeting).
Social anxiety is more common in adolescence or young adulthood compared to older adults, and this is likely because younger individuals have had less of an opportunity to practice and become confident with social skills.
COVID-19 and Social Anxiety
The pandemic resulted in much less in-person socialization and along with less of a need for regular social interactions due to technology and work-from-home lifestyles, it could be predicted that social anxiety will become more prevalent. It is important to note that people who struggle with social anxiety symptoms are not typically content with the avoidance of social interactions. Many individuals with social anxiety desire to have more positive social connections or experiences, but the fear/anxiety might prevent them from putting themselves in situations that allow for personal interaction.
It is natural for most people to feel nervous and anxious on occasion when faced with new social experiences (e.g. starting college, getting a new role at work, going on a date, etc.); however, if the social anxiety has lasted for more than six months and is causing “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” talking to a mental health professional is recommended (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5).
Is Social Anxiety Treatable?
The good news is that social anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Treatment goals for clients with social anxiety include helping the client to expose themselves to social situations that provoke some fear along with teaching coping strategies to help manage anxiety symptoms.
In addition, social skill building and enhancing communication skills are typically addressed in counseling. Clients who participate in therapy often feel more confident and competent in social situations, engage in more social interactions and see improvements in their personal and professional lives. Reach out to one of our behavioral health experts for more questions.