Social Anxiety: You Don't See Yourself as Others Do

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When you have social anxiety disorder (SAD), making friends is hard. You believe others are judging you - negatively. You believe that everything you do is scrutinized by others and seen as falling short of what is acceptable. You constantly worry that you will do something “stupid,” say something wrong or do something that is embarrassing. It is easier to simply avoid participating in social situations. But this often result in loneliness and increased anxiety.

    Social anxiety disorder often appears during the teen years. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 15 million people in the United States, or almost 7 percent of the population, experience SAD at some time in their life. Many live with the disorder for 10 or more years before seeking treatment.

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    Friendship is good for your health. It makes you happier and can actually extend your life. Studies show that having just one friend can extend your life up to 10 years. And, when you have friends, memory loss in aging adults is delayed. Friendship also has a positive effect on stress levels; when you feel connected to others, stress levels decrease. If you shy away from friends because of SAD, you suffer not only in the short-term, but in the long-term.

    Social anxiety disorder goes beyond shyness. When faced with having to speak in public, eat in front of others or talk to someone you don’t know, you can be overcome with anxiety. You might start sweating or shaking. You might feel your heart racing. If you need to give a presentation or return an item at the store, you might spend hours or days dreading the experience, wanting to do anything to avoid it altogether. Anytime you are in public, you might be self-conscious, thinking other people are judging the way you stand, the clothes you are wearing, the way you speak and what you say. All of this makes it difficult to make or keep friends. It interferes with your relationships with your family. You might feel isolated and alone.

    Your friends probably don’t see you as you imagine yourself. A study, completed at Washington University and published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, had over 100 people with SAD rate their friendship with one other person. That person also rated the friendship. According to the results, those with SAD saw their friendship as worse than the friend did. This was even more distinguishable in young people with SAD and those with relatively new friendships. The friends indicated that they knew the person with SAD was struggling and some stated that the friendship was different, but not worse than friendships with those who didn’t have SAD.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be as effective, and sometimes more effective, than medication for SAD and other anxiety disorders. Part of this treatment is exploring how the person with SAD comes across to other people and discovering this is often better than the person with SAD imagines. This study backs up this notion and this information may help those with SAD be more comfortable in forming and maintaining friendships.

Published On: December 02, 2014