When it comes to social anxiety, there are a ton of misconceptions. Whether it’s a well-meaning loved one or a stranger on the internet, people make assumptions about social anxiety all the time that simply aren’t true. This contributes to stigma, which makes it hard for those struggling with the disorder to reach out and receive the help they need. Taking the time to understand this issue is crucial. Let’s take a look at 5 common myths about social anxiety:
1. Social anxiety is the same as being shy.
This is, in my opinion, the most common misconception. Ask anyone who struggles with social anxiety, and they’ll probably tell you they’ve heard this from someone at some point. The truth is, however, that social anxiety and shyness are very different things. Shyness is a normal reservedness around others. Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder categorized by excessive and irrational anxiety and fear of embarrassment in social situations. In order for one to be diagnosed with the disorder, one’s symptoms must be severe enough to effect daily functioning. This is what makes it so different from merely being shy.
2. People could get over their social anxiety if they just tried harder to be social.
Many people have the idea that those with social anxiety could overcome their disorder if they just pushed themselves out of their comfort zones. What they don’t understand is that, for people with social anxiety, there are no comfort zones; everything is uncomfortable! If social anxiety was that easy to overcome, it wouldn’t be a disorder. Instead, treatment through therapy and/or medication is almost always required for recovery.
3. Everyone has social anxiety.
This is only true if you use the term “social anxiety” very loosely. Almost everyone at some point in their life will experience a level of anxiety in social situations, for example during a presentation or performance. However, experiencing this anxiety and actually having social anxiety disorder are very different things. While it’s important to let those struggling with social anxiety know they are not alone (and they certainly aren’t!), we must be careful not to trivialize the issue by saying that it’s just something everyone deals with– further implying that some are just better at dealing with it than others.
4. Social anxiety is all in your head.
While social anxiety is a mental illness and is centered around harmful thought patterns, social anxiety has very real physical effects as well. When my anxiety was at its worst, I was experiencing stomach issues every week. Hyperventilating, chest pain, dizziness, sweating, feeling flushed, and changes in appetite are all more examples of the way social anxiety affects people physically.
5. Social anxiety will never go away.
Though it may feel like it for those struggling severely, it is not true that you can never recover from social anxiety. Even for those who have “tried everything,” the world of mental illness treatment is ever-expanding with new ideas, therapeutic approaches, and medications. More than anything, I strongly recommend therapy for anyone dealing with social anxiety. There’s a reason it’s recommended so often. Sometimes it may take some time, and you may need to try two or three therapists before you find a good fit, but good therapy has been shown over and over again to greatly improve the lives of those with anxiety disorders.
Got another myth you’d like to bust about social anxiety? Tell me in the comments!