Listen to this 8-minute radio interview with Larry Cohen, LICSW, Chair and Cofounder of the National Social Anxiety Center, about what social anxiety is. (It aired in August, 2016 on the Not Broken radio show of the Canadian Mental Health Association.)
Social Anxiety is Common
Social connection is an important human need. For many people, social interaction triggers fear and worry. The anxiety is usually caused by the fear of being judged, criticized by others, or embarrassing oneself. Being the center of attention such as receiving an award or having others acknowledge your birthday can also be anxiety provoking.
Social anxiety is a common human experience. Most people experience some anxiety, particularly in unfamiliar situations. Roughly 12% or 15 million Americans, at some point in their lives, will experience debilitating social anxiety defined by significant impairment in regular functioning. Typically, they avoid situations that are important or endure them with a great deal of distress.
There are a variety of situations and settings where a person could experience social anxiety.
Social Situations that Trigger Social Anxiety
• Introducing yourself to strangers
• Initiating “small talk” with acquaintances, family members, classmates or co-workers, or people on the street
• Sustaining conversations once the interaction has begun
• Inviting others to a social activity
• Flirting with a potential romantic partner or suggesting a date
• Telling a story or making a comment in a group
• Asserting your needs with people in authority such as teachers, supervisors, or law enforcement
• Avoiding conflict and anger
• Forming friendships or developing romantic relationships
• Asking for help from customer service personnel, reporting dissatisfaction over service, or to return an item purchased
• Exiting a social interaction that has run its course
• Revealing personal information about oneself
• Joining a group conversation already in progress
• Hosting a party
• Networking at a professional event
Performance Situations that Trigger Social Anxiety
• Performing for an audience such as acting, singing, dancing, or playing a sport
• Attending a job interview
• Delivering a prepared speech or presentation to a large group in a formal setting
• Speaking off the cuff to an audience
• Speaking up during a discussion at a meeting
• Introducing yourself in a group meeting
• Answering or asking questions in a class or other formal setting
• Teaching a class or leading a group
• Facilitating a professional meeting
Other Situations that Trigger Social Anxiety
• Speaking on the phone within hearing range of others
• Eating, drinking, typing, writing, reading, walking in front of others
• Making public announcements such as internet posts, group emails, or writing letters to the editor
• Urinating in public restrooms with others waiting or within earshot. This is also referred to as “pee shyness” or paruresis.
• Blushing, sweating, or shaking in the presence of others who might notice this involuntary physiological response.
• Engaging in sexual activity
Avoidance and enduring significant distress in social situations can lead to dissatisfaction with life. Depression develops when hopelessness of overcoming the anxiety sets in. Some people use drugs and alcohol in excess to compensate for social anxiety. Seeking professional help, as offered at NSAC, can decrease social anxiety reducing depression and the need to use drugs or alcohol.