For people with social anxiety disorder (or social phobia), social situations bring feelings that go far beyond simple anxiety or nervousness.
The anxiety may be so extreme and disabling that it interferes with their daily life, work and/or education, family and social life.
People with social anxiety disorder may often avoid feared situations or endure them with intense distress. For people with social anxiety disorder the key element is severe anxiety and worry about social interactions due to a persistent fear that people are thinking about them in a negative way, or fear of behaving in a way that may cause feelings of embarrassment or humiliation. The anxiety is experienced in situations where the person believes that he/she is being scrutinised or observed by others.
For some people the anxiety can lead to panic-like symptoms, which may include heart palpitations, blushing, trembling, nausea, faintness and profuse sweating. The anxiety usually triggers anxious thoughts about the feared social situations and contributes to a person's distress and difficulty performing in such situations.
Thoughts and beliefs which are commonly associated with social anxiety disorder include:
"I look out of place"
"I sound stupid"
"I don't fit in"
"I'm making a fool of myself"
"I'm inferior to other more talkative people"
"People will notice that I am blushing and look nervous".
A person with social anxiety disorder recognises that the social anxiety is excessive and unreasonable, however, he/she feels unable to change or control the feelings or behaviour. Living with social anxiety disorder usually has an adverse affect on a person's self-esteem. People often experience feelings of inferiority, a hypersensitivity to criticism, negative evaluation, or rejection, and find it difficult to be assertive. It is also common for people to fear indirect evaluation for example in test or exam situations.
For some people, social anxiety disorder may be selective - they may have an intense fear of public speaking, for example, but be comfortable in other social or performance situations. These specific social phobias are focused on a particular area of anxiety and generally are related to worries about performance. Other people may experience a more generalised social anxiety and have several social phobias about a variety of social or performance situations in which they may be observed.
Click this link to read the short version of ABC presenter Sian Prior's personal story.
The extended version is also available via the Meanjin website.
For information on our Social Anxiety Support Group click here