If you have social anxiety, you know what it feels like to experience intense anxiety in social situations. It can involve a fear of judgement or embarrassment and can sometimes result in you avoiding social situations altogether.
While it’s quite common (around 7 per cent of Australians have experienced social anxiety in the past 12 months), there are a lot of myths surrounding it. Debunking these myths is important, so that they don’t create stigma and self-stigma, or prevent people from seeking help.
Here are five myths about social anxiety – and the facts that prove them wrong.
1. “Social anxiety is no big deal – everyone gets it”
Many people feel nervous about certain social situations, for example giving a speech at an event or presenting at a work meeting. This type of anxiety is natural and can even be motivating. However, there’s a difference between these nerves and social anxiety.
If severe anxiety is affecting your everyday life and making you avoid social situations, you may have social anxiety. Some people might be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, sometimes known as social phobia, if their social anxiety is intense and causing problems in day-to-day life.
The only way to know for sure if you have social anxiety disorder is to see a healthcare professional, such as your GP, or a mental health professional.
2. “Social anxiety and shyness are the same thing”
People often think that social anxiety is the same thing as being shy. But this is not the case. Being shy might mean you find it difficult to talk to new people or feel uncomfortable or awkward in social situations.
However, shy people do not necessarily experience the intense and persistent fear seen in social anxiety.
3. “All people with social anxiety are introverts”
Social anxiety is not the same thing as being an introvert. While some people with social anxiety may be introverts, not all of them will be.
Introversion is a personality trait. Introverts tend to feel energised from spending time alone rather than with lots of others, and usually prefer small group settings or solitary activities. Whereas social anxiety is a mental health challenge relating to fear and anxiety in social situations.
4. “You should avoid social situations if you’re feeling anxious”
It’s understandable that you might want to avoid social situations if you have social anxiety. However, while you might feel better in the short term, avoiding these situations can make the anxiety worse in the long run.
It’s important to consider the costs of avoiding social situations: will you miss out on making meaningful connections? Will it affect how you feel about yourself? Does avoidance really ‘get rid’ of your anxiety, or is it still there when you are next around others?
5. “There’s nothing you can do to treat social anxiety”
As with many mental health concerns, it can be very helpful to seek professional support.
A mental health professional will work with you to treat the anxiety in the most effective way possible – whether that’s therapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness-based therapies), peer support, medication, or a combination of supports.
Your psychologist or counsellor will be able to help you in preparing to face social situations. It’s a good idea to start small and work up from there – for example, having a coffee with a friend rather than launching straight into a party. Some other well-known tips include focusing on others more than yourself (for example really listening to what they’re saying), paying attention to the present moment, and challenging any negative thoughts or fears you might have about what other people are thinking.
If you believe you might have social anxiety, we recommend seeing a GP or mental health professional as a starting point.
Knowing the facts about social anxiety is helpful in decreasing stigma and will encourage you and others to seek help. You’re not alone in facing social anxiety.
Effective medical, community and psychological treatment is available, and a person who is experiencing social anxiety can live a fulfilling life.
SANE offers a range of free support services for people over 18 years of age with complex mental health needs and their families and carers. Visit sane.org/get-support to choose the supports that work for you.
And if you’re new to SANE Forums, welcome! You can register here to join our safe and supportive online community and connect with others through shared experience.
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk, call 000 or visit your nearest hospital. For support with suicidal thoughts, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.