Social Anxiety

If you’ve ever felt awkward or uncomfortable in a social setting, you’re certainly not alone. It’s common to feel a little out of place when joining a new group or social scene.

But if that discomfort becomes a hindrance to branching out and connecting with new people or just completing the things you need to live life, then you might be dealing with social anxiety, a type of anxiety disorder that can cause problems for some people.

“Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is a debilitating fear of being in a situation with unknown people,” says Dr. Neil Leibowitz, chief medical officer with Beacon Health Options, a national behavioral health services company headquartered in Boston that serves 1 out of 9 people across all 50 states.

Social anxiety is “an intense fear of being watched and judged by others and is so strong that it’s beyond the afflicted person’s control,” he explains. “It often causes people to avoid all social contact because doing ‘normal’ social things, such as small talk, makes them too uncomfortable.”

While feeling awkward when introducing yourself, starting up conversations and making eye contact with others “can feel uncomfortable at first, these responses are typical and will often dissipate as we develop a sense of comfort in that new situation,” says Awstin Gregg, senior vice president and behavioral health expert and therapist at Vertava Health, a national behavioral health care system for mental health and substance use conditions headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

But that’s not the case with someone who has social anxiety. For people with social anxiety, “this sense of heightened anxiety doesn’t dissipate quickly. Instead, the anxiety can increase, leaving the person feeling overwhelmed and seeking an escape route,” Gregg says.

Much more than just shyness, social anxiety is “one of the most common mental disorders," Leibowitz says, and “it can interfere with going to work or school, developing relationships or doing everyday things.” It often occurs when a person is asked to:

Speak in public.

Talk to strangers.

Meet a new date.

Go to parties.

Start conversations

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