The majority of us get nervous before a first date, job interview or important presentation. But if everyday interactions with others fill you with dread or fear, you may have social anxiety.
About 12.9 million adults in the US suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of those, 2.2 million have social anxiety or social phobia, a disorder characterized by fear of interaction with other people and being judged in social situations.
Social phobia may interfere with a person’s job, relationships, and general enjoyment of life. Left untreated, it can lead to low self-esteem, poor communication skills, low achievement levels, substance abuse, suicide or other serious mental health conditions.
How to Tell If You Have Social Anxiety
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are common symptoms of social anxiety:
- Fear of situations in which you might embarrass yourself or be judged
- Intense fear of interacting with strangers
- Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
- Feeling anxious or fearful about upcoming social activities
- Analyzing your performance after social interactions
- Fast heartbeat
- Upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea
- Trouble catching your breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Confusion or feeling “out of body”
It’s important to note that people often confuse social anxiety with introversion. Introverted people are energized by solitude and quiet reflection. They prefer doing things alone or with small groups of close friends.
Introverts might display similar behaviors to people with social anxiety – such as avoiding large social gatherings – but they do so because of personal preference, not because of intense anxiety or fear.
Learn more about anxiety.
Tips for Living With Social Anxiety
Although avoiding social situations may provide temporary relief, social anxiety disorders usually require treatment from a mental health expert to see long-term results. If you exhibit symptoms that interfere with your daily life, talk to your doctor about medications and counseling options.
Also consider these self-help techniques:
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and get enough sleep. Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine intake. Try relaxation exercises and other stress-management techniques.
- Slowly face your fears. Determine which social situations make you feel most anxious and practice these activities to build coping skills. Start with more manageable outings, such as dinner in public with a close relative or friend. Prepare for the conversation in advance. Read the newspaper or check your dinner companion’s social media profiles to find conversation starters.
- Practice minor interactions with strangers. Make eye contact with someone you pass on the street. Compliment the cashier at the grocery store. Ask a stranger for directions.
- Build your self-esteem. Focus on what you like about yourself. Set realistic goals and celebrate your achievements. In social situations, notice how often the embarrassing situations you fear actually occur. It probably happens less often than you think. When you do get embarrassed, remind yourself that your feelings are normal and will pass — and that you can handle them until they do.
To learn more about how to deal with social anxiety, talk to your primary care physician or mental health care provider.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.