4 Things To Know About People with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety, or social phobia, is marked by extreme self-consciousness, avoidance and physical symptoms when faced with an uncomfortable social situation. We all get jitters from time to time, but social anxiety is on a whole different level.
The tough thing about having the condition is it’s difficult to explain to people what it feels like. If you’ve ever found yourself confused as to why a friend cuts a visit short or seems avoidant of social gatherings much of the time, read on and consider whether they might be dealing with something more powerful than simple nerves.
It’s not something people can “just get over”
Just like depression, anxiety is not cured by the old “bootstraps” argument. It can’t be turned on and off on a whim and can be difficult to manage for most people. Those who struggle with it carry an added burden of dealing with less than understanding responses to their hardship.
Dismissive comments or pleas for people to push through their anxiety are insensitive to what the person is going through. If being in a crowded space or being invited to a get-together triggers an unpleasant feeling for someone, understanding and respect for their situation is the best bet.
It can strike at any time
Anxiety can be an unpredictable foe, even with extensive self-reflection and hard work on managing symptoms. Just when someone is feeling their most comfortable and confident, it can rear its ugly head. It’s important to remember that recovery is fluid and an ongoing process. If someone seems calm and collected in a social environment one day, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will the next–and someone else’s expectation that they will be shouldn’t be held against them.
People may not know they have it
It’s not surprising the average age of onset for social phobia is 13-years-old. Think back to that time in your life–was your adolescence filled with ups and downs, awkwardness and tension with peers? You’re not alone. It’s hard enough getting through puberty without a diagnosable anxiety condition, and it’s easy to see how kids may not know there’s something bigger at play than hormones.
According to Erikson’s model of psychosocial development, teenage years are marked by a struggle between identity and role confusion. That sense of being hyper-aware of how others may see you, figuring out just who you are and how you fit into the world, and navigating awkward interactions are hallmarks of this period in life.
We all wonder if there is something “wrong” or different about ourselves along the way. Social anxiety amplifies this nagging thought, which can easily be dismissed as everyday stress or “just going through a phase.” When someone can put a name to what they experience, a huge burden can be lifted.
Patience and understanding can go a long way
Those with significant social anxiety often become frustrated when people confuse it with everyday nervousness. It’s easy to fall back on defining other people’s experiences based on our own, but the reality is that everyone’s experiences are diverse. If a friend says they are not comfortable in a certain situation, take them at their word. And then try to understand what they are feeling.
Sure, practicing empathy takes extra work. It can be difficult emotional labor and we surely cannot be expected to be 100 percent empathic all moments of the day. At the same time, we can all improve. And perhaps one way to start is by opening our minds to appreciating the struggles of others.