Social anxiety disorder affects approximately 15 million American adults and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder following specific phobia. The average age of onset for social anxiety disorder is during the teenage years. Some might dread meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store, others might avoid only some of the scenarios above. Most people with social anxiety do not talk about it and might not understand why they feel fine in certain situations but not in others. Some might feel physical symptoms of anxiety in situations such as giving a speech, playing a sports game, or dancing or playing a musical instrument on stage.
Here are some of the symptoms of social anxiety when performing in front of others:
- Extreme fear of other people judging them
- Staying away from places where there are other people they might feel judged by
- Blush, sweat, tremble, or feel a rapid heart rate
- Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
- Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
- Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
The defining feature of social anxiety disorder is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. Because people with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious, they often avoid social or performance situations, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress.
Although they recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, they often feel powerless against their anxiety. The first step to effective treatment is to have a diagnosis made, usually by a mental health specialist. Without treatment, social anxiety disorder can prevent a person from reaching their full potential.