A psychologist explains what social anxiety feels like

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting millions of people around the world.

But what does living with the disorder really feel like?

Those with the condition – which is one of the most misunderstood anxiety disorders – are likely to have an overwhelming and long-lasting fear of being in social situations, which usually begins when they are teenagers.

However, the condition should not be confused with shyness.

“Very simply, social anxiety disorder is not shyness,” Dr. Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology and director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, told Today.

“Being shy is a personality trait, not a mental health disorder.”

Hofman went on to describe how someone with social anxiety feels when faced with a social situation.

“They think they are being judged and feel stupid, worthless and powerless,” he said.

On its website, NHS Choices states the condition can be “very distressing and have a big impact on your life”, adding that it can “affect everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life”.

And while all of us will worry about a social situation at one point in our lives, such as giving a presentation at work or telling someone bad news, those with social anxiety feel overwhelmingly worried about most social situations before, during and after them.

This can lead them to avoid group situations such as parties and holidays, and can affect how they feel at work or with their closest friends and family.

However, there are treatments available for the condition, and the NHS recommends a consultation with your GP, and then a mental health specialist, to work out the best option for you.

This can range from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to taking antidepressants or seeing a psychotherapist.

And Hofmann believes the treatment can be transformative.

“Patients worry about people noticing them or thinking they’re stupid and what they find out is that sometimes people don’t even look at them when they are doing something odd or awkward or they find out people can be very kind,” he said.

"Patients with SAD don’t need to suffer. There is such effective treatment.”

Images: iStock