What about social isolation? Donna asks. When it comes to group activities Donna describes her feelings. ‘I feel like I morph into someone who is stupid, introverted, shy, uncomfortable,’ she says, ‘and the familiar feelings of worthlessness and . . . even despair wash over me.’
One thing we know about social anxiety is that it commonly occurs alongside other psychological problems such as depression. Most of us have experienced a certain level of discomfort when it comes to dealing with new or possibly troublesome social situations. Donna’s experiences sound like an extreme level of apprehensiveness that is often referred to as a social phobia.
Social anxiety comes in a variety of forms. Blushing, stage fright, an inability to eat in public or use public toilets are just some examples. The fear of public exposure, possible scrutiny and resulting embarrassment, is sufficient for people to avoid situations that evoke such negative emotions.
Although Donna doesn’t mention this in her interesting comments, there’s a good chance that her social concerns preceded her depression. If this is the case it’s just possible that her social anxiety was influential in the onset of her depression, and helps to maintain it now.
From what Donna says it seems to be the case that she might like greater social contact but she finds it too difficult. She does not therefore fall into the category of the so-called avoidant personality disorder. This person has absolutely no desire for an active social life and adopts social isolation as a lifestyle choice.
Donna may or may not wish to be more outgoing but people often confuse social anxiety with introversion. It’s perhaps not too surprising as many people with social anxiety either appear introverted, or just happen to be introvert as well. The curious thing about social anxiety is that many high profile people and celebrities suffer with it. They may want the company of others, even yearn for it, yet they struggle when the opportunity arises. On the whole, introverts are content with long periods of solitude although they may have a small but tightly knit group of friends. They often busy themselves with particular interests, yet they are perfectly comfortable in the company of others. Many of my academic colleagues fall rather neatly into this category. After what can appear days or sometimes weeks of hibernation they emerge to deliver a lecture to several hundred students without difficulty.
Donna’s experience of social anxiety is really quite common. In fact roughly 50 percent of people with intense social anxiety also suffer with depression. Put another way, a significant number of people with depression also experience social anxiety.
Do you share some or all of Donna’s experiences? Have you found ways of coping with the situation? Why not share your thoughts and ideas, or perhaps comment directly on Donna’s question relating to social isolation.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.