Most people can relate to experiencing butterflies before giving a speech or going for an interview, but for people with social anxiety disorder (SAD), it is so much more than just butterflies.
People who suffer from social anxiety worry constantly about what others think of them.
It affects even basic interactions such as calling someone on the phone, ordering food at a restaurant, or sharing an opinion in a group. These social or performance based interactions can trigger different physiological symptoms like sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, turning red, etc. This type of anxiety stems from an extreme fear of judgment or scrutiny.
For school age kids with SAD, this is especially challenging. Kids with a broken leg do not have to participate in PE, but kids with social anxiety still have to participate in public speaking. They still have to speak when called upon in class. They still have to read aloud in class. The cafeteria can be a very stress-filled area as well, as that is where the social ladder is formed and tested. These activities may seem normal to other students but can be a trigger for kids with SAD.
Those who experience social anxiety tend to feel misunderstood.
They want to socially engage with others, but their fear of being judged or scrutinized holds them back. They also tend to experience shame over not being able to participate socially the way that others do so easily. Most people with social anxiety have people in their lives that they trust and can be with without experiencing anxiety.
If you are a friend or family member of someone with SAD, it is important to be sensitive to the challenges they face.
It is also important to remember that while they may appear to be shy, they crave relationships as much as anyone else.
Written By: Elizabeth Kraich, LAPC