Social anxiety is a widely prevalent disorder. Ninety percent of cases of social anxiety are misdiagnosed as panic, schizophrenic, or other depressive disorders. The most probable reason is that the symptoms or signs of social anxiety are so subtle in most cases that they are simply accepted as variants of normal.
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When is it time to get professional help from a psychologist? Most practitioners agree that the following conditions call for a consultation:
When ‘normal’ anxiety does not go away, but
- has been present for at least six months,
- has also increased in intensity, and
- affects everyday life.
Look for These General Signs
Anxiety is commonly experienced by people while entering a new institution (school, university), job interview, a major change in life (moving, demise), and so on. However, the following are some specific situational personality traits that must be evaluated to decide whether one is at risk for social anxiety.
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- Such children are afraid to answer when the teacher asks a question, even though they know the answer.
- Avoid lunch time because they do not want to mingle with other children.
- Do not ask for help from classmates or the teacher because they are afraid of what others might think of them.
- Avoid choir, sports, school cultural programs and interactive activities because they want to hide away.
- Show poor academic performance.
- Do not participate in class projects, giving an impression of uninterest.
- Most of these children stay unnoticed in the class.
- These students dread the first day of college, because they may be asked to introduce themselves to the class; they think they won’t do a good job, and may stammer and embarrass themselves, so they avoid going to college on the first day.
- Wish to talk to their classmates, but are unable to.
- Avoid presentations and seminars at college for fear of embarrassment.
At the Office
- Usually work alone because they feel others do not approve of their work strategies.
- Avoid talking to the boss.
- Hate to attend meetings.
- Are usually employed in the IT sector, where they can work alone and do not need to interact with other employees.
- Usually do not find a job very easily, and may even be found to be hopping from one job to the other.
- Fear to take telephone calls, as they are anxious about who the caller is and whether they can converse confidently without stuttering. After ending the call, they feel hugely relaxed, but still worry over what they said, their tone of voice, and whether the caller formed a good impression of them.
- Fear before a meeting. Much before a meeting is to take place, they are already anxious about it. They lose sleep over it, are afraid that they may botch it up, become red in the face, forget the prepared material, fear that they will create a bad impression on the boss and risk a bad appraisal, and generally make fools of himself. All this runs in their minds, causing great anxiety.
- Focus on the self. The focus is so much on the self, and on not failing that such individuals do not hear all that is being said. Later, they try to rethink and recollect what they might have said wrong, and find that they have actually said the wrong thing.
At Social Gatherings/Public Places
- Are afraid to eat and drink in public, as they feel they are being constantly judged by others.
- Are afraid to walk down the road because they think people are watching them, their clothes, how they walk, and assessing them in a negative manner.
- Fear to meet somebody known and have to say hello, so keep their gaze carefully away.
- Although willing, they are scared to speak to the opposite sex/go for a date.
- Unwilling to attend social functions like marriages and receptions.
- Fear to ask the salesman or the cashier at the department store for help.
- Hesitate to place orders in a restaurant, fearing that their weak voices will let others know that they are scared.
General Physical Symptoms
People with social anxiety may show any or all of the following physical signs:
- Blurred vision
- Can hear one’s own heart pounding and the blood rushing in the ears
- Profuse blushing or face freezes up
- Experience trembling or shaking hands
- Feel nauseous and dizzy
- The mind goes blank
- Sweating profusely
- Body becomes stiff
- No eye contact (looking down or away)
- Speak in a very low voice
- May want to frequently go to the restroom
- Insomnia and digestive disorders
Anxiety disorders may lead to certain behavioral changes like absenting oneself frequently from school, college or work. One may also feel like having a stiff drink before any event (“Dutch courage”) or have a smoke to release tension. Instead of such avoidance behaviors, self-help may be tried.
Most people with anxiety disorders know that they have a problem. Self-analysis is one of the best modes of evaluation. If one recognizes many of the above signs of social anxiety, they certainly require professional help for better quality of life.