It’s the third largest psychological problem that Americans face and yet nobody talks about us. Yes, I am just one of those 15 million Americans who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD). It is sometimes referred to as social phobia. Like most disorders, it is a spectrum one where severe cases can lead to crippling effects while milder cases are various degrees of shyness. We know that there may be a genetic connection but that also our environment may have caused all this distress. What is even worse is that this condition has to remain a secret because we fear that it may affect our relationships with family and colleagues. Here are 15 things we do not want you to know.
1. We cannot relax with others
The problem is that we are acutely aware of how you are watching us all the time. Our logic and reasoning tell us this cannot be for real, but for us it is. We feel as if we are being judged all the time and this makes us terribly tense and uneasy. We do not know whether you are laughing with us or at us. Watch this video here to find out what we have to go through on a daily basis.
2. We do not show off about our achievements
Are you repelled by the show offs and the arrogant? If you are, then you probably appreciate how modest we are about our own talents because we find it terribly difficult to talk with people, let alone shout our achievements from the rooftops. The great thing about us is that we never dominate meetings and we just get on with our job, quietly and efficiently.
3. We usually avoid eating out
It is true that we get very nervous in front of people eating at the canteen or restaurant. We feel that they are constantly scrutinizing us so it is much better when we can eat in peace, alone. We also can enjoy our food much more.
4. We know how to listen
Being socially anxious means that we have got listening down to a fine art. We are much more empathic and that is why we are so suited to working in health and customer care. We love listening and it makes our work easier, in a way.
5. We make great friends
In spite of all the social unease and shyness, when you get to know us, then you are likely to form a deeper and longer lasting friendship with us. Actually, instead of worrying how we are cultivating the friendship, we should relax a lot more because people know we are somewhat different but the quality of friendship is just as good for them, if not better!
6. We hate speaking in public
I hated speaking at meetings because I was extremely aware of being criticized and being judged all the time. Probably my colleagues were just wondering when the next coffee break would be or how they would get promotion. We are extremely fearful and anxious about these situations.
7. We dread confrontation
We just hope they never happen but they often do! You know when you have to deal with a problem with a neighbour who is making your life hell because of an extra loud TV. Even being assertive with family means that we have to move out of our comfort zone and that is really difficult and challenging for us. We just hope and pray that you do not notice how we sweat and our hands tremble when we manage to speak to you.
8. We work well alone
We are proud of how we can stay in the zone and get things done. There are no interruptions caused by chatty colleagues because they avoid us by now. But what we have achieved in terms of meeting a deadline and a project is fantastic. The downside is that we hate teamwork because we feel that there is far too much emphasis on talking, rather than getting down to it.
9. We are better rewarded
I bet you never knew that we get great satisfaction and joy from achieving our goals. Our reward buttons are very active and this spurs us on to do even better. There is some research that suggests that the extroverts and socially adept are not getting the same rewards buzz as we do.
10. We risk isolation
We would rather not attend the first day of class at university because of the fear of meeting all those new people who will be in our class. How will we sound with a shaky voice like that and a sweaty handshake? I was once mocked by a high ranking executive because I spoke quietly about my background. He interpreted my social anxiety as being ashamed of my nationality. It was an excruciating experience, I can tell you. So, now you understand why we skip that first day and prefer to mingle quietly or remain unnoticed when we do turn up.
11. We are afraid of asking for basic information
We prefer to go without something, rather have to face up to asking someone in the supermarket where something is. We know this is ridiculous but we would rather go without. The same applies when we have to ask for information at an office. Knocking on a door requires a lot of courage for us as does dialling a number and talking to a stranger on the phone.
12. We avoid parties
It is normal to be a little shy at parties when you have to meet new people. But we always go for the upgrade. We just get swept up in the anxiety. We get lots of physical reactions such as sweating, butterflies and maybe palpitations. You can see why we avoid these occasions when and if at all possible.
13. We are not reaching our full potential
It comes as no surprise that the majority (70%) of us are at the bottom of the socio-economic scale and that half of us may not have even completed high school. Social anxiety is keeping us from reaching our full potential. I know people who turned down high powered jobs because of the fear of speaking at meetings. Others never became actors because the fear of being watched on stage was too terrifying a thought.
14. We are conscious of the give away signs
In a way this makes it even worse because we know that some of the following reactions can be a give away. That makes it even worse and we freeze up completely. For example, we do not want to make eye contact. We sometimes talk very quietly or may even talk extremely quickly. Blushing is a problem for us so we tend to use a lot of make-up if we are women. I know some people who are socially anxious and they tell jokes all the time as if to hide their fear. Others would not dare even tell a joke and I am definitely in the latter category.
15. We practise our lines all the time
Honestly, you would think we were about to go on stage! You see, we constantly repeat and practise what we are going to say and also how we are going to deliver it. Over and over again. We just add to the fear by imagining negative and dreadful scenarios. It will be a catastrophe or disaster! I know that I could start drinking to get over my fear but then everyone will smell the alcohol on my breath.
Now I know that I have to decide whether to seek psychotherapy and medications to help me get out of this mess. I can tell you that it is no surprise to learn that about 35% of people with SAD wait about 10 years before actually getting treatment.
Featured photo credit: romantic couple in love young people on the docks in the winter via shutterstock.com