There’s no feeling that’s quite as bad as feeling unloved. Life can be made impossible if you are going around in your daily life feeling nothing but animosity directed towards you.
We all have bad days when we feel this way. You may usual feel fine about others’ perception of you and encounter strangers without too much anxiety or worry. But how can you tell if the bad vibes are more than a just bad day? How can you tell if your unease in social situations is a symptom of a social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder can cause a significant amount of distress in your life. Under the worst circumstances, it can mean that you become a recluse. You may become so impaired by your fear of the perception of others that you are unable to navigate daily life and its many social interactions.
In this article, we will be giving an overview of social anxiety disorder and its treatment options, plus share three social anxiety disorder tests you can take to understand if you might be suffering from the condition.
Although this article cannot give you a definitive answer, we hope that it can lead in the right direction and encourage you to see help. If you are sure that your normal life has been encumbered by your fear of facing other people, we definitely recommend seeking the assistance of a mental health professional.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear of embarrassment in social situations. This fear is usually manifested by a person attempting to completely avoid social situations. With social anxiety disorder, the fear around social situations often expands into work, friendships, and family life.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the current version is called the DSM-5) is a handbook that was created by the American Psychiatric Association. It categorizes and describes mental health disorders and diseases. The DSM-5 divides social anxiety disorder into two subtypes: generalized and specific.
Generalized social anxiety disorder describes a condition where the patient will fear a multiplicity of social situations. The type of social situation the patient fears cannot be narrowed down to anything specific, and as such, it may appear as if the person fears most or all social situations. Anything from entering a busy classroom to getting into work in the morning may cause anxiety in a person with generalized social anxiety disorder.
Specific social anxiety disorder describes those who fear one or two discrete social situations. For example, you may be fine with the social interactions during your work life but uncomfortable in malls or birthday parties.
A very common specific social anxiety is around public speaking, also known as glossophobia. Another example is the fear of urinating in public restrooms (paruresis or “shy bladder syndrome”).
So if you feel OK in many social situations but have intense anxiety in specific social situations, you may still be suffering from social anxiety disorder.
How Common Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a fairly common disorder. It is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder in the United States, after major depression, alcoholism, and phobias.
Over the course of their entire lifetimes, around 13 percent of all people will be affected by social anxiety disorder. People who develop it tend to start seeing symptoms early, around the age of 13. In adolescents and young adults aged 14 to 24, 11 percent of women and 7 percent of men report suffering from social anxiety disorder. Overall, more women than men suffer from social anxiety disorder.
What Is It Like to Have Social Anxiety Disorder?
When you have social anxiety disorder, life while around other people is tough. You will be shy when meeting new people, quiet in groups, and withdrawn in unfamiliar settings. You may not display any outward signs of social discomfort around others, such as blushing or avoiding eye contact, but feel intense physical and emotional discomfort internally.
When placed in the social situations you fear, you might experience physical symptoms such as:
- Racing heartbeat
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension
Your emotional symptoms may include:
- A persistent fear of social situations where you are meeting people you aren’t familiar with or that may be judging you
- A fear that you will act in a way that will be embarrassing
- Panic attacks as a result of exposure or potential exposure to social situations
The worst part about social anxiety disorder is that you may actually enjoy the company of others. In fact, you may even crave the company of people. However, social anxiety disorder pushes you to shun social situations for fear of being found out as unlikable, stupid, or boring.
You’ll avoid speaking in public, expressing opinions, or socializing with peers. Sometimes, this may mean people mistake you as being unkind or a snob, which pushes people further away.
Those afflicted with social anxiety disorder often have low self-esteem and are highly self-critical. They suffer from other mental health issues more often, including depression and panic disorder. You may realize that your fears are excessive and unreasonable, but you are unable to do anything about it.
Is There a Social Anxiety Disorder Test?
There are many social anxiety disorder tests available online to help you figure out if you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder. They all ask questions to help understand how you react and understand social situations and score you based on your responses.
These tests are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to give you an official diagnosis. Share the results with a licensed behavioral healthcare professional.
We’ve found that these are some of the best tests available:
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) bases their test on the DSM-4, published in 1994. Although this is not the most current version of the DSM, it still a great starting point if you are looking to get answers about your social anxiety.
Although this test is not free, Psychology Today is a popular and well-respected magazine. It may be worth your dollar to do the test from this professional source rather than a free source.
This test was developed by the Anxiety Treatment Center of Austin, which is a clinic of professional psychologists and psychiatrists. It’s a dependable source and may lead you to find help if you are located in the Austin area.
How Is Social Anxiety Treated?
If you do have social anxiety disorder, what are the treatment options? There are three main therapy series that your health practitioner may select should you be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. These may be used independently or in combination depending on the severity of your disorder.
Psychotherapy includes a variety of behavioral and cognitive retraining tactics that clinicians apply to help you mentally overcome social anxiety disorder.
During psychotherapy, you are taught how to identify, control, and ultimately modify or overcome negative thought patterns you have developed when facing social situations. The therapist may also have you practice different ways of gaining more self-confidence and self-esteem.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common psychotherapy. It involves exposing a person to the thing that they fear in a gradual and controlled way, with the support of a trained practitioner.
Cognitive therapy may have social anxiety disorder sufferers face social situations while practicing coping techniques taught during therapy sessions. You may also learn various social skills to help you navigate more confidently amongst people. For instance, you may learn and practice how to make small talk or how to respond to criticism in a healthy way.
Another variety of treatment is acceptance and commitment therapy. The theory underpinning acceptance and commitment therapy is that social anxiety disorder is as a result of the conflict between distressing feelings and the desire to control and abate these feelings.
Rather than struggle to control your negative social perceptions, acceptance and commitment therapy seeks to teach patients to observe and accept these feelings. It borrows much from mindfulness meditation techniques as it tries to teach patients to observes thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally and from an objective standpoint.
Spire can be a helpful addition to such therapies. Spire tracks your breathing rate and sends you notifications when you are falling into a state of stress. You then know when it’s time to take a break and cool down before anxiety overtakes you. Speak to your therapist about whether Spire may play a role in your psychotherapy treatment plan.
The most common types of medication prescribed for social anxiety disorder are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are typically used as an antidepressant. Other medications that you may be prescribed include:
- Other antidepressants
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Beta blockers — These block the effects of adrenaline, a hormone released when you are stressed. These medications reduce high heart rate, blood pressure, and other physical symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder.
Take a Test and Seek Help
Most people suffer from a few self-confidence issues when it comes to interacting with others. The problem occurs when these feelings of self-confidence overwhelm your life and your ability to function normally. It’s torture to live a life where you want to be loved and cared for, but anxiety about others’ perceptions does not allow you to seek out the relationships that would make this possible.
Taking a social anxiety disorder test may help you realize that what you are experiencing is not normal. We hope that taking this test will push you towards seeking support and finding treatment so you can have the social life you desire.