Big presentations, meeting strangers, interviews, standing in a crowded room — everyone gets nervous now and again in new social situations. Not to mention, there are people who are just more naturally introverted than others. However, constant anxiety and fear could mean you have a bigger health issue going on: Shyness and social anxiety disorder may appear similar on the surface, but there are subtle signs to watch for that indicate you may be dealing with this diagnosable mental health disorder.
As author and researcher Dan Buettner explained in an article for Psychology Today, research has found that 16 to 50 percent of people in the U.S. are true introverts who “get their energy from having ‘alone time.’” But social anxiety disorders are also extremely commonplace, and are often mistaken for run-of-the-mill shyness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 6.8 percent of the U.S. population — or approximately 15 million people — have social anxiety disorder. Further, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that just over 12 percent of U.S. adults will develop social anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.
"The two main types [of social anxiety disorder] are social interaction anxiety and social performance/observation," Nick Hobson, the founder and chief scientist at The Behaviorist, tells Bustle. "The former is triggered by social gatherings and meetings, and even by casual conversation with another individual in a one-on-one. The latter is more triggered by a performance that a person has to give, such as a presentation, interview, or game. A big component of both of these is the excessive worry or fear of being embarrassed, or ridiculed in front of a group of people."
Social anxiety disorder can manifest in both physical and mental ways. The Mayo Clinic reports some frequent symptoms include constantly worrying about embarrassing yourself, avoiding different situations, having extreme anxiety before social gatherings, being fearful in public, sweating, trembling, dizziness, nausea, and feeling all around tense.
Being introverted may look a whole lot like social anxiety disorder, but people with social anxiety disorder often require treatment to manage this health issue. "Common therapies for social anxiety disorder are meditation, mindfulness skills, and cognitive Behavioral Therapy," Max Karimbeik, the Clinical Director of The Giving Tree Treatment Center, tells Bustle.
This means that differentiating between the two is pretty important. Here are seven small hints that may mean that your shyness is actually social anxiety disorder, according to mental health experts.
Your Anxiety Seems Unwarranted
Hobson says a clear sign of a social anxiety disorder is "when the fears or doubts that come from interacting with others are irrational and unwarranted, and have little objective proof of actually occurring." Hobson explains that this could mean believing something negative will happen in every social situation, even if you've had positive experiences before.
You're Overly Anxious About Being Embarrassed
It's fair to say no one likes to embarrass themselves in front of a crowd, or receive critical feedback, but Karimbeik explains "reacting to fear of scrutiny by drawing back from them with apparent anxiety and distress" is a symptom of social anxiety disorder. It can be difficult to differentiate, but the intensity of your anxiety and distress may give you a clue as to whether you may need extra support from a mental health professional.
You Experience Physical Symptoms
If your nervousness in a social situations regularly goes beyond the feeling of "butterflies" in your stomach, it may be time to talk with your physician about the possibility you have social anxiety disorder. Hobson says to look out for the "physiological distress of anxiety, fear, and panic — for example, intense sweating, rapid breathing, nausea, and dizziness."
You're Scared In Anticipation Of A Social Event
Shy people may avoid large crowds and social gatherings because it makes them feel drained (or simply because they just don't feel like going). But, Karimbeik tells Bustle that worrying extensively — to the point that you're fearful about a social situation beforehand — means you could have an underlying social anxiety disorder.
Your Relationships Are Negatively Affected
Being introverted can make finding new friends more difficult, but having social anxiety disorder can make it feel close to impossible — and, it can negatively impact the relationships you already have with friends and family. Hobson says that "when a person begins to experience difficulties or disruptions in their social relationships that were once seen as a source of comfort," this is a common sign your shyness is actually an anxiety disorder.
You Avoid Social Events Altogether
Both Hobson and Karimbeik agree that a clear-cut sign you have social anxiety disorder is avoiding social situations, crowds, gatherings, and public spaces altogether. Opting for alone time on regular basis is totally healthy, but if you find you're constantly skipping social events because of anxiety, talking to a therapist could help you figure out the root of your fear.
Thankfully, with the appropriate treatment and help from a mental health professional, social anxiety disorders can be easily managed. If you notice socializing leads to distress, excessive worry, or fear, it may be time to consider your shy demeanor is actually social anxiety.