What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, is an intense fear
of social situations. This fear arises when the person believes that they
might be judged, scrutinized or humiliated by others. The anxiety can be
specific to one social situation such as public speaking or it can be
more general in nature.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, Social Anxiety is the largest
anxiety disorder, and the third largest mental healthcare problem in the
world today, after depression and alcoholism. It is estimated that over
10 million Americans or about 7-8% of the population suffers from Social
Some common anxiety provoking social situations include:
- Public speaking
- Talking with people in authority
- Dating and developing close relationships
- Making a phone call or answering the phone
- Attending and participating in class
- Attending church
- Speaking with strangers
- Meeting new people
- Eating, drinking, or writing in public
- Using public bathrooms
Some physical symptoms that may occur during, or
in anticipation of, the situation include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sweating or chills
- Muscle Tension
- Upset Stomach
- Shaky voice
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty making eye contact
The level of mental and physical discomfort is so strong that people will
often change their lifestyles to avoid being exposed to the situation.
They might drop out of school, become unemployed, use alcohol or drugs,
isolate themselves, become suicidal, or avoid relationships.
I can't remember a time when I wasn't afraid in social situations. When I
was a toddler my Mom use to call me her shadow because I would never
leave her side and would always cling to her leg whenever a stranger was
In school I had problems speaking up in class and making friends. I
didn't exactly know what my problem was but I knew I was different from
the other kids and that made me feel ashamed and an outcast.
I was very insecure and unsure of others. As much as I tried to suck it
up and be "normal" I never felt like I measured up and my fears would
always take over until the anticipatory anxiety got so bad that I could
hardly talk to people.
Everytime I would attempt to talk to someone I didn't know very well,
automatic negative thoughts would start ringing in my head. The
conversation I had with myself would go something like this:
"I'm stumbling over my words."
"This person can tell I'm shaking."
"I bet I sound like an idiot."
"What's my problem?"
"Why can't I be like everyone else?"
"Nothing I have to say is important anyway."
"I'm such a loser."
"This isn't worth it."
"I'm better off alone."
I would have trouble doing ordinary things like going into stores and
asking for help. Standing in the checkout line and signing my name in
front of the cashier would also cause me to be anxious. Making phone
calls to anyone other than friends or family was difficult, and the
thought of developing further relationships or dating was out of the
question. I mean, how could I possibly think I could have an intimate
relationship with someone when I could barely say hello to the bank
teller or order food in a restaurant?
Struggling year after year with this took its toll on me and I started to
really believe and shape my life around the lies I was telling myself. I
told myself I was a stupid, worthless loser and there was no reason to
hope or dream for a better life. I think the most damaging lie of all
though was I believed being alone was what I wanted, I didn't need people
in my life and that I was safer staying inside. When the only voice I
heard was my own dark thoughts, I lost all perspective on things and slid
further into the void of depression.
It wasn't until I became a Christian that I saw the truth about myself.
As I grew closer to God, He slowly began to uncover the lies that were so
ingrained in me and had defined my life. He showed me that I wasn't
worthless and that there was a purpose for all the pain I had gone
through. Instead of viewing myself through my flawed perceptions, I
started to see myself through His eyes. I was His child and He loved me
just the way I was.
I still struggle with my fears and the urge to isolate myself but I've
learned that the more I trust God with my life and my social interactions,
the less power my fears have over me. Social Anxiety Disorder buried the
person who I was truly created to be and now everyday I discover a little
bit more of who that person is.
I've chosen to write about this because for the longest time, I felt I
was the only one that struggled with it. If you can relate to what I've
written, I want you to know that you are not alone and that there is hope.
My silence is killing me
Always trying to deal with this atrocity
So hard when no one understands
But still I’m trying the best I can
I feel so hollow and incomplete
Failing at trying to make ends meet
I hate this mask I always wear
When all I want is someone who cares
But it’s so tragic when you can’t be yourself
I feel like a lie and it never helps
Fear and anxiety always wins this fight
I think about tomorrow and it keeps me up all night
I want to cry but tears never fall
Alone in my room I stare at the walls
In this loneliness I feel secure
The only place I know for sure
I can be myself and not worry anymore
But this isn’t living and I long for a cure…
by Dustin S.
In and out
In and out.
I try to speak.
I give in
And walk away.
What I wanted.
THE DAY I STOPPED TALKING
I was not happy that day and I wanted everyone to know it. I was crying and throwing a temper tantrum on the floor in the hall. I don’t remember what it was I was so upset about, but I imagine it was pretty normal behavior for a cranky five year old that wasn’t getting their way. Meanwhile, my Mom was in the living room with a friend of hers. She had just bought a new tape recorder and they were having fun listening to music and singing along into the microphone. The music stopped. I continued on with my little tirade. Then I heard strange distorted sounds coming from the living room. I froze. It was me. My Mom had had enough and secretly taped my tantrum. I was confused. I ran into the living room. I heard my cries and my screams. Then the laughing started. They were making fun of the noises coming from the tape recorder, telling me how bad it sounded and that I was being a big baby. And then it became clear to me…They were laughing at me! They were making fun of me! She pushed rewind and played it over and the laughter grew even louder. I was humiliated! I was so angry and embarrassed that this happened in front of a family friend that I bolted out the front door. I think I made a vow that day to never again utter a sound. My voice brought shame and ridicule. My voice was horrible and no one wanted to hear it…especially me.
What kinds of treatment are available for Social Anxiety Disorder?
There are two kinds of treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. One is psychological therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), for example, encourages patients to face the situations they have avoided and helps them to improve the way they think about themselves in those situations. Another approach is to use medications. There are several drugs that are effective in treating Social Anxiety Disorder, and doctors discuss with individual patients which treatment will suit them best. Doctors sometimes recommend a combination of psychological therapy and medication.
Check out these links for more information:
Social Anxiety Institute - Extensive information and therapy program
Social Anxiety Support -
Excellent source of information with moderated message board and chat
room. Meet friends who know what you are going through!
Social-Anxiety.org - A place where individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder and their friends and
family can find out more information about the condition.