Is Social Anxiety Disorder A Mental illness?
Social anxiety disorder is a problem that many people struggle with. Anxiety disorders, in general, are among the most common mental health issues out there, and social anxiety disorder is also fairly common. It is a problem associated with an increased worry and fear attached to social interactions.
Some people with this disorder experience anxiety associated with specific forms of social interaction. For example, they might feel very nervous when talking on the phone, speaking in public, or eating in the presence of others…
…however, for many, social anxiety disorder is more generalized. It appears when they interact with strangers or feel that they are being judged, so it can be associated with going to a party, meeting a date, or going out with friends…
…but wait a minute here,
- Doesn’t everybody gets nervous sometimes in social situations?
- Is social anxiety disorder a mental illness?
- How does it compare to a personality trait, like shyness?
The answer to this question…
…is that social anxiety disorder is considered to be a disorder for several reasons. First of all, it is disruptive. By disruptive, it means that people with this disorder feel its impact on their daily life. It might significantly limit what people can do, even if they want to. Someone with this problem might want to socialize more and meet new people but be unable to…
…the anxiety becomes too much. Likewise, the person with this issue may want to advance professionally or do better in school but find themselves constrained by their anxiety. It is, first, considered a disorder because it is disruptive.
It is considered a disorder because it tends to have a higher intensity and frequency than when it appears only as a trait. When people are shy, they might limit their social interactions, but it usually doesn’t cause them significant distress. People who are shy or introverted may feel comfortable being as they are. However, social anxiety is likely to be felt intensely and out of proportion to the situation.
Everyone might get nervous before a date but they might feel that anxiety as tolerable, whereas someone with social anxiety can feel it going out of control. Social anxiety might appear way too frequently or be felt with too much intensity, especially in proportion to the stimuli.
It is considered a disorder because it can respond to treatment quite well. In general, anxiety disorders can be treated through a variety of approaches, including anti-anxiety supplements and therapy. For social anxiety, there are different therapeutic approaches that can work to reduce it and make sure it doesn’t have a significant impact on the individual’s life. While it might take some work, social anxiety can definitely be improved in the vast majority of cases.
Perhaps I’m just nervous?
When contrasting social anxiety with shyness or normal nervousness, one might see that the latter two do not require treatment. If it is a personality trait, like shyness, then it might appear frequently but it is not the source of significant distress to the person. The person may feel comfortable with their trait and not experience intense distress or worry in social situations.
If it is a situation like normal nervousness, then it is likely something that also is not frequent. When it appears, it is usally transient and does not cause the person to avoid or limit the situation they are about to encounter. Overall, intensity, frequency, and distress distinguish social anxiety disorder.
What causes this problem then?
What causes this problem? There is yet no consensus on why people experience anxiety disorders but a general mechanism that has been proposed is associated with the misfiring of normal responses. Fear plays an important role. It regulates our behavior and ensures our survival by keeping us out of danger. But why does it occur in social situations?
We live in a world where social connections are hugely important but they are, perhaps, less significant for survival than they used to be. If one of our ancient ancestors was ostracized or kicked out of their tribe, clan, or village, this could have very dire consequences. It’s not like they could just move to another tribe in most cases. Being liked by others in the tribe was essential for survival and ostracism could lead to death because the person relied on the group to help provide for their food, shelter, and other things that were essential.
In today’s society, the urgency of being liked by others has decreased but we are still, in general, very vulnerable to social rejection and search social belonging. It is essential to our well-being, and our brains are still very much tuned to be liked by others. In the case of social anxiety, the mechanism behind it may be adaptive: it tries to avoid situations of ostracism and rejection. However, it is likely that this mechanism has become excessively sensitive and is misfiring, causing a state of high alert when it is not required.
There is hope!
The good news is that therapy and other strategies can effectively recalibrate this mechanism to make sure that people can still enjoy socializing and are not limited by their anxiety as much. Treatment usually takes the form of therapy, but it may be complemented with medication and also with complementary approaches like meditation, exercise, a change in nutrition, relaxation techiques, and many others…
Today, there is a wide variety of approaches that provide relief from symptoms of anxiety and social anxiety specifically.
Overall, social anxiety disorder is considered a disorder because of its high intensity, frequency, or associated distress. It may be associated with a misfiring of adaptive mechanisms that focus on helping the person belong and avoiding rejection. However, social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated and improved and today there are many approaches that are successful in reducing the symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Is social anxiety disorder a mental illness?
Social anxiety is a disorder, a mental illness OR a mental condition. It all comes down to how we want to define it but here’s the deal…
…does it really matter? Isn’t the most important thing what we, ourselves, think and feel? I remember when I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. At first I did not take it lightly at all and my thoughts were something along the line “oh noo! I’m mentally ill…I’m a psycho and I’m sick in my head!”….
There are thousands and thousands of conditions we humans can suffer from. Mentally, spiritually, bodily and social anxiety is just one of those. We are still the same person we were before we got diagnosed and it really does not matter what it is called…
…what matters is that we can indeed do A LOT to improve our situation and it is possible to completely get rid of our “condition”. So keep reading, learning and trying different things. Gather more and more tools, tricks and techniques and, before you know it, you will one day notice:
…”hey, my social anxiety is much better now than it was a couple of months ago”
So never give up. Never ever!