Misunderstandings Surrounding Social Anxiety Disorder Harm Those Suffering from It

Individuals with social anxiety disorder are commonly misunderstood due to the numerous myths surrounding their illness, which can prevent some from seeking treatment. It is important to examine and dispel some of the most common myths surrounding social anxiety disorder in order to help those suffering from it to better understand its crippling negative effects and feel encouraged to seek treatment.

Living with social anxiety disorder turns the world around you from a place to live and experience into a place to fear. Sleepless nights spent ruminating about every possible interaction the next day will bring are commonplace. Each commute to work becomes an anxiety-ridden experience where you obsess over possible situations that might bring you embarrassment. And as if things weren’t already difficult enough, many people don’t perceive social anxiety disorder as a serious illness.

While mental health issues such as schizophrenia and depression are widely acknowledged as debilitating, various misconceptions surrounding social anxiety disorder paint a picture of it that doesn’t do its severity justice. These misconceptions amplify the isolation and loneliness you experience living with the disorder and make it more difficult to seek treatment due to embarrassment and a feeling that nobody understands. Below are some are some of the most common myths surrounding social anxiety disorder that must be dispelled in order to help you feel accepted and understood, ultimately giving you the motivation to get the treatment that you deserve without feeling any sense of shame.

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Myth: Social Anxiety Disorder Is Rare

Stigma surrounding mental health pushes many to think that disorders such as social anxiety are rare illnesses that affect a small segment of the world’s population. Apprehension around social interactions is viewed as a feeling that most people will eventually get over, but if you’re suffering from social anxiety disorder, this apprehension is a sign of something much more deep-rooted and severe. As a society, by minimizing this extreme experience of anxiety and fear, we keep pushing the disorder into the shadows and making it harder to notice those who truly need help. Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental health issue in the general population behind major depressive disorder (MDD) and alcohol dependence. Research shows that at any given moment, 7 percent of the population suffers from social anxiety, and the chances that someone will develop the disorder at some point during their life is approximately 12 percent.

Myth: Social Anxiety and Nervousness Are the Same Thing

The fear and anxiety created by social anxiety disorder are much more debilitating and complex than the nervousness that everyone experiences every now and then. The big difference between nervousness and severe social anxiety lies in the effects that each emotion has on the everyday lives of those who experience them. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) describes fear, for those with social anxiety disorder, as something that interferes with their normal routine, causing “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” At the end of the day, nervousness comes and goes, but social anxiety is there to stay, with each anxious thought creating more of the same and every intense experience pushing you to find ways to avoid facing them again.

Before working to overcome her social anxiety, longtime sufferer Julie remembers the difficulties her disorder brought to her life.

I would walk into a mall and feel dizzy, even with my “safe person.” I couldn’t enjoy being in a place with many people such as shopping malls and grocery stores. Standing in line at the grocery store was a nightmare. I felt like the people behind me were staring at me. I was such a nervous wreck by the time I had to pay I could hardly feel my legs. My hands were clammy and I felt faint. I started avoiding things that made me feel uncomfortable which was anything that had to do with other people.

Myth: Social Anxiety Affects Only Public Speaking

Public speaking is one of the most common human fears, with some surveys suggesting that we fear it more than death. With so many people sharing this fear, it’s easy to associate it with social anxiety. Unfortunately, this is a misguided belief, and the problem arises when people limit their understanding of the disorder around this activity. Suffering from social anxiety disorder causes fear to creep into many different facets of your daily life that others may not expect, including talking to strangers and even eating in front of other people. In each of these cases, the fear can be equally as excruciating, and self-conscious thoughts about doing or saying the wrong thing come to consume your mind.

Myth: People with Social Anxiety Disorder Can Just “Get Over It”

People who suffer from social anxiety disorder often hear statements like, “get out more often” or “just get over it.” These comments are rooted in a misunderstanding of what you are feeling and highlight the lack of empathy that society has for this disorder. Hearing these comments all the time gives people with social anxiety the impression that nobody really cares about how they are feeling, making treatment and healing seem like something that will never happen.

Thomas A. Richards, a psychologist and director of the Social Anxiety Institute, knows that “getting over it” isn’t possible, but healing from it is.

Social anxiety, as well as the other anxiety problems, can be successfully treated. It always bothers me when I read that a person with social anxiety is just “going to learn to live with it,” or “learn to manage it.” There is no rational reason to keep living with social anxiety. There is no rational reason to believe you must ‘manage’ it the rest of your life.

Social anxiety is a serious issue from a biological standpoint, as it stems from a dysfunction in regions of the brain that govern emotion and fear. One of the main structures in the brain connected to these emotions is the amygdala, a set of neurons that emerged in the first mammals (making it one of the most ancient parts of the human brain). Research has suggested that social anxiety might stem from overactive amygdala activity during the process of threat evaluation. During this process, intense social anxiety can make a smirk from a stranger walking by or an inaudible conversation seem like threats, stimulating intense feelings of fear.

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Myth: Social Anxiety Can’t Actually Hurt You

Only when you’ve experienced how the fear of social judgment can come to control the things that you do and the people whom you connect with can you truly understand how much social anxiety can hurt. Watching those closest to you wonder why you are pushing them away and isolating yourself is difficult and only increases the hurt and shame that you already feel from your illness.

Many believe that the negative effects of mental health issues are restricted to the unseen parts of our brains, but much like other mental disorders, social anxiety can take its toll on the body and cause many physical health problems. Studies have shown that anxiety disorders are linked to heart disease and respiratory disorders, and some research highlights the possibility that they could also be linked to gastrointestinal disorders, although data in this realm is limited.

Paving the Way to Acceptance

Understanding that the above myths stem from a complete misconception of what you are feeling is the first step to realizing that you are suffering from a very real disorder that requires treatment. Experiencing a wave of irrational fear and intense anxiety during the course of everyday life can be a crippling experience. Often called the disorder of missed opportunities, suffering from social anxiety disorder can rob you of the experiences in the world waiting to be had.

By using your awareness of why people don’t understand social anxiety disorder and the extent that it is dragging you down in your life, seeking treatment becomes a much more promising path. Only once you take this step towards progress, you can see how much your anxiety has been holding you back and realize that it is possible to move past it and live a more fulfilling life.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for individuals with social anxiety disorder who are struggling to face the world. Contact us for more information about our holistic treatment programs and how they can remove the barriers to healing for you or your loved one and help pave the way to a better life.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Patrick Tomasso