Feeling some degree of discomfort when you perform publicly or meet new people is a fairly common experience. However, for those with social anxiety disorder, these situations can unleash a wave of severe anxiety that can make them avoid engaging in things they might otherwise enjoy.
As we learn more about mental health and gain awareness of different conditions, questions often arise about how to know if certain patterns of thought or behaviour are due to someone’s personality or are signs of an unidentified mental health disorder. This is true for example, for someone who may have always described themselves as “shy,” but have recently discovered that some of their feelings may be symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Learning more about the nuances of a condition and its presentation can help clarify the difference between a personality trait and a mental health disorder. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a condition such as social anxiety disorder, there are options for treatment that can help manage stress in social situations and offer new opportunities for positive interactions with others.
What is the Key Difference between Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder?
A key determinant in separating a personality trait from a mental health condition is the impact that it has on the person’s quality of life. So in the case of shyness and social anxiety disorder (SAD), someone who is shy may be more reserved in social settings, and feel awkward or anxious regarding initial meetings or interactions. These feelings generally dissipate as the person grows more comfortable and familiar with the situation. While a shy person may always avoid the spotlight, being shy does not keep them from engaging with the world around them, trying new things, or having close relationships.
For someone living with SAD, their anxiety around interactions with others can cause severe and obvious physical symptoms, and drive them to isolate or otherwise limit themselves in order to avoid these reactions. This results in a diminished quality of life for the person with SAD as they slowly cut themselves off from people, places, or activities that they might otherwise enjoy in order to find some relief from their symptoms of anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterised by extreme and debilitating anxiety about being judged, criticised, rejected, or perceived negatively in a social setting or interaction. Contrary to what some may think, not all people with SAD are extremely reserved or “loners”; in fact, many people living with SAD do participate in some social settings, and may be perceived as popular. Many will struggle with deep feelings of inadequacy and concern about how others feel about their interactions or social performance. SAD can be “circumscribed,” or limited to specific situations like making a presentation at work, or “generalised,” which expands to a variety of daily interactions. Some situations that can trigger symptoms of SAD include:
- Giving a speech or speaking in front of other people
- Waiting in a queue
- Using public toilets or public transportation
- Going to parties
- Eating, drinking, writing or using the phone in front of other people
- Talking to strangers
As a person struggles with SAD, they generally will take steps to avoid the situations that create anxiety.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
When someone with SAD has to engage in a social situation they are uncomfortable with, they can experience a range of uncomfortable and even debilitating symptoms which can include:
ADHD is diagnosed by thoroughly evaluating past and current symptoms, as well as screening for medical problems in order to rule out other possible conditions. A diagnosis is critical in providing better understanding of ADHD, as well as beginning to explore potential treatment options.
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty speaking
- “Blanking out,” or temporarily forgetting what you were going to say or do
- Nausea or stomach upset
- Muscle tension and rigid posture
The fear of these symptoms can feed into increased social anxiety, as those with SAD worry that obvious symptoms of distress will feed into potential embarrassment or negative impressions from others.
Social Anxiety and Co-Occurring Disorders
Social anxiety disorder is the third most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder, affecting an estimated 8% of the population. Despite the growing awareness of SAD both in the medical community as well as the general public, there are still many cases that go undiagnosed.
This lack of diagnosis can be due to the presence of co-occurring disorders. SAD often accompanies major depression, and other conditions such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is possible that in an evaluation, symptoms of multiple conditions may be misread and the diagnosis would then only include one disorder. This can result in less effective treatment of SAD, and persistent symptoms and discomfort for the patient.
Getting Help: Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder
For people living with social anxiety disorder, their self-esteem may be in serious jeopardy from ongoing anxiety and negative self-talk that commonly occurs as a result of social interactions. People with SAD often convince themselves that they are inept at certain things, poor communicators, “weird” or unlikable, and socially unattractive, even though this is rarely the way they are actually perceived by others.
Treatment often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of talk-based psychotherapy designed to help correct negative patterns of thought and behaviour. For people living with SAD, this includes working to build more positive and realistic internal dialogue about social interactions, as well as learning how to cope with disapproval or conflict and effectively manage anxiety and stress. CBT has been shown to be highly effective in treating people with severe SAD.
Regaining Confidence: Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers highly specialised treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, including social anxiety disorder and co-occurring disorders. Our programme aims to help you feel better almost immediately, uncover the root causes of your condition, and learn positive, healthy coping mechanisms to help you overcome your symptoms.
Our beautiful riverside residential centre, located just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, is far away from the stressors and triggers of daily life. Designed to foster relaxation, healing, and personal growth, you’ll be able to settle in easily in our resort-like facilities with private rooms, a swimming pool, fitness centre, and yoga and meditation studio.
A Safe, Intimate Environment with Personal Care
At The Dawn, we purposely keep client numbers under 25 so that our clients feel they are part of a welcoming, supportive community whom they can rely on from the moment they arrive. Staff and peers are on a first name basis, and clients have an all-access pass to our team for support whenever they need it.
Our multidisciplinary, Western-trained clinical team can give each client personal attention throughout their stay, regularly reviewing and adjusting their personal treatment plan to ensure it meets the client’s ever-evolving needs.
We can help you be engaged, confident, and better able to handle your anxiety. Call us today to learn more about how The Dawn can support you.