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Social Anxiety Disorder: Just Shyness or Lack of Confidence?

social anxiety in public speaking
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | November 12, 2022 (Last update: March 1, 2023)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

Social anxiety disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear or nervousness in social settings. It is an important topic that should be discussed because it can be misjudged as shyness or just a lack of confidence. A person with a lack of confidence can be motivated to get comfortable in social settings but that’s not the case with people with Social Anxiety Disorder. Most of the time people dealing with this disorder know and understand that their fear is unreasonable but somehow they feel powerless in getting over their unreasonable fears. They are not just uncomfortable in speaking in public or getting on stage; they are fearful in simple things like ‘making eye contact’ and ‘saying a hello to someone’.

In this article, we will discuss Social Anxiety Disorder, its symptoms, and available treatment options.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

The first thing we need to understand is the definition of Social Anxiety Disorder so that we can differentiate it from other conditions that may make a person uncomfortable in a social setting.

Definition: Social Anxiety Disorder is an anxiety disorder that makes people fearful, nervous, and anxious in social settings. Sometimes the disorder is also referred to as Social Phobia. People dealing with this disorder find it very difficult to meet and talk to new people. They even don’t feel comfortable attending social gatherings. Typically, people with social anxiety disorder fear being judged by others.

Prima facie the disorder may seem like shyness but it is much more than that. You might be aware that a condition is not considered a disorder until it doesn’t disrupt a person’s normal living. So, yes, social anxiety disorder can have a debilitating effect on a person’s life. And, it affects different aspects of a person’s life including – education, work, and relationships.

What are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder has psychological symptoms that only the affected individual can understand. But, everything about a social anxiety disorder is not only ‘in the head’ of the person. It may cause some physical symptoms when the person is exposed to a social setting or if she meets an unknown person. The symptoms may include –

  • Blushing
  • Nausea
  • Muscle Tension
  • Increased Heart Beat
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Difficulty Speaking
  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Stomach Trouble (instant urge to go to the loo when you need to attend a public event)
  • Mind Going Blank or Feeling ‘Out-of-the-Body’
  • A Rigid Body Posture or Talking in Overly Soft Voice

Apart from these physical symptoms, the affected person feels psychological discomfort that other people cannot see. They start worrying even before weeks and months if they have to attend a social event. The mere thought of attending such an event can make them feel sick inside. People with social anxiety disorder do not only feel sick or uncomfortable before or during the event but they also spend hours or maybe days worrying about how they acted.

They try to avoid going to social events at any cost; when they do they try to hide in the background so that people don’t notice or try to interact with them. Some people may adopt weird habits, like taking alcohol before attending any social gathering, to make themselves feel comfortable.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder may feel awkward in eating in front of others and they may leave a buffet party empty stomach. They may even feel uncomfortable in using public restrooms, just in case, someone notices them.

Though it must be noted that all symptoms need not develop in every affected individual and every individual need not have the same symptoms in every situation.

How Does Social Anxiety Disorder Affect a Person’s Life?

As discussed earlier Social Anxiety is considered a disorder because it affects a person’s life. It can and does affect a person’s capability of living their life to the fullest. Social Anxiety Disorder can lead to other issues affecting a person’s life, including:

  • Low Self Esteem
  • Negative Thoughts about Themselves and Their Life
  • Sensitivity to Any Criticism (including constructive criticism)
  • Depression
  • Poor Social Skills
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

The exact reason for Social Anxiety Disorder is not known yet. However, a bunch of reasons has been identified that can be the triggering cause for this. Sometimes it has been noticed to run in families but many experts do not see any genetic cause behind it. According to them, there’s a possibility that a child observes and ‘learns’ the behavior from one of the parents who might have a Social Anxiety Disorder. However, some experts believe that genetics may increase someone’s chances of getting social anxiety disorder.

Here is a list of possible reasons that may cause Social Anxiety Disorder in any individual:

  • Bullying or other repeated negative experiences
  • Family conflict
  • Sexual abuse
  • Visible physical disability or abnormality
  • Serotonin imbalance in brain
  • Overactive Amygdala (part of the brain that defines and controls emotions)
  • Overprotective or controlling environment

What is the Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder?

There are several types of treatment options rather than a fixed set of the treatment procedure. One person may benefit from one treatment while the other may need another option or a combination of options. The final decision for the right treatment option will be taken by a mental health care provider.

The treatment options include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – The therapy is focused on training the affected individual to control their anxiety through various relaxation and breathing techniques. When a person has too many negative thoughts regarding their public appearance, they are taught to replace their negative thoughts with positive thoughts or affirmations.
  • Group Therapy – In this therapy individuals are made to attend a social event with individuals with Social Anxiety Disorders. This helps every participant feel ‘less alone’ and helps them work together to overcome their respective fears.
  • Exposure Therapy – It is the technique of helping an individual to gradually face situations that make them anxious rather than completely avoiding them. A person might learn to control their fear or be a part of social gatherings ‘despite’ their fears.

Many people can get over their Social Anxiety Disorder with these therapies or some lifestyle changes like avoiding caffeine or taking proper sleep. But, not everybody can be treated with just these. If therapies and lifestyle changes do not bring adequate improvement in a person she may be prescribed medication for anxiety and depression.

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