We all experience shyness in social situations at some point in our lives. However, about 7 to 13 percent of the adult population experiences something that may look like normal shyness, but is much more severe. Chronic, debilitating shyness or a deep fear of being embarrassed in front of other people or negatively judged is called “Social Anxiety” or “Social Phobia”.
Signs and symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Constant fear of criticism or embarrassment
- Self-consciousness or embarrassment in social settings
- Negative self-image
- Difficulty being around people or speaking up in front of people
- Worrying for days or weeks before a social event
- Avoidance of social events, including classes or work
- Dwelling on or over-analyzing every social interaction
- Blushing, sweating or trembling when in the presence of other people
- Nausea brought on by social interactions
- Difficulty forming friendships or other relationships
Social Anxiety is the third most common mental health disorder among young adults, yet it is often ignored or associated with “normal shyness”. Left untreated, social anxiety can have a negative impact on young adult success and make school and work almost unbearable.
Imagine for a moment that you are in a college lecture hall. Many of us would feel butterflies in our stomach a moment before raising our hand to answer a question in front of 200 unknown people. But for someone with social anxiety, even the possibility of having to speak in that lecture hall is something that could keep them from sleeping for weeks beforehand.
College is a place where social competency helps students succeed. Speaking up in lectures or during discussion sections gains the approval of the professor or tutor. Self-confidence during presentations generally results in a higher score. And when academic material gets tough, students are encouraged to reach out to their peers or tutors for help– something that is easy for students with confidence, but nearly impossible for those with social anxiety.
Many students with social anxiety have learned coping methods, including intense preparation for social settings, and can still be very successful in school. However, they generally struggle more than their outgoing peers.
Students with social anxiety have a tendency to:
- Maintain self-image at all cost, even if their methods are harmful to long-term success.
- Skip classes where they might be asked to speak.
- Avoid participating in classes that they do attend.
- Avoid asking for academic help.
- Do poorly on projects with presentation elements where stuttering and embarrassment can be misconstrued as lack of preparation.
- Avoid seeking help for their anxiety.
It is important to remember that social anxiety is not just shyness or a personality trait. It is a mental health disorder that should be treated as such. Criticism of academic performance is unhelpful to individuals with anxiety. Remember that it might be hard for a person to ask for help. Instead, offer to help them by setting up the first appointment with a mental health professional and support them through the process.
Social anxiety is treatable through talk therapy and calculated exposure to social settings. If left untreated however, only about one third of individuals with social anxiety will achieve remission within 10 years. This is especially concerning given that social anxiety often coexists with depression and substance abuse disorders.
If you want more information on anxiety and anxiety disorders and how to manage them, download our free white paper “Young Adult Anxiety” using the link below.
This white paper was sponsored by Pure Life Aspiro, a research-based Wilderness Adventure Therapy program for young adults, located in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Pure Life by Aspiro offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for young adults.