Many confuse social anxiety with shyness, but while everyone gets shy from time to time, social phobia is a disabling anxiety that impacts everyday social situations. Social anxiety is characterized by excessive self-consciousness and overwhelming anxiety. It can impair your ability to succeed in work, school, or personal relationships.
About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder, but while the typical age of onset is 13, many people live with the disorder for many years before seeking help. People with social anxiety disorder are able to see that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, yet they’re unable to stop or control it. They may feel constantly terrified that they will humiliate or embarrass themselves.
When common and persistent, the following are some of the most common signs of social anxiety. If you think you may have social anxiety disorder, seek help from a medical professional and use the research and information available from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Signs You May Have Social Anxiety
1. Only feeling comfortable with select people
Rather than seeking out new friendships and maintaining a varied base of friends, those with social anxiety tend to have only one to two close relationships. These people are important because they have the ability to make the person feel comfortable, understood, and safe. While it may be easy to spend time with these select people one-on-one or in small groups, it may be nearly impossible to go to a party with those same people when others are in attendance.
2. Feeling judged in public
Being in public places will make a socially anxious person feel tense and judged. They may be convinced that everyone is watching and staring at them, even if they know that thinking is irrational. This makes public outings tense and stressful. Someone with social anxiety may find it impossible to let go, relax, and focus on anything other than the anxiety they feel when in public.
3. Imagining embarrassment
Those with social anxiety often envision embarrassing scenarios where they horrify others or do something stupid or disgusting. This feeling can come on when they’re about to meet someone new or as they head to a party or work event. These imagined scenarios, not matter how improbable, can be debilitating.
4. Being critical of themselves
After a social interaction a person with social anxiety may spend hours analyzing what they said, how they acted, what the other person said, and how they were perceived. They may mentally beat themselves up for misspeaking or not expressing themselves in the way they would like.
5. Obsessing over specific social fears
Those with social anxiety often have very specific social fears. For many, the fear of public speaking may be incapacitating. Others may feel anxiety when they have to do things like write in front of others, eat in public, or even talk on the phone in a place where others are listening.
6. Being prone to panic attacks
For some, social anxiety is so overpowering that they may have a panic attack leading them to seek medical help. In many of these situations, nothing is physically wrong with the person, but the extreme anxiety and emotion they’re feeling is so severe it has them convinced that they may die or need emergency care.