Abs and I have interviewed lots of people dealing with many different phobias and anxieties. One of the most prevalent and painful is Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). When someone suffers from social anxiety disorder (SAD), she feels constantly judged in social situations and often believes that she just does not fit in. She may chastise herself for making a comment in a group or at a work meeting, even if nobody else gave it a second thought. She may feel that people are thinking about her physical appearance or intelligence, even when there are no indications that this is the case. As you can imagine, this heightened sense of being evaluated and judged in social situations makes one reluctant to put herself out there.
The onset of SAD is often around thirteen years old, that wonderful age when just about everyone is feeling (and looking and acting) awkward. It is the beginning of adolescence, the developmental stage when we are already obsessed with how we are perceived by our peers. Parents may think that their children are just being moody teenagers when they rather stay in their rooms than socialize. And while sometimes this is the case, often the parents are unknowingly watching the beginning of social anxiety disorder.
Many people believe that social anxiety disorder is the same as introversion, but this not the case. Introverts get energy and satisfaction from time alone—in fact, they often prefer it. SAD sufferers, however, abstain from social situations because of the anxiety they experience with other people. And this is not the sufferer’s preference; many anxiety sisters we’ve met have told us that the worst part of SAD is the loneliness and isolation which results from avoiding social anxiety.
Like other anxiety disorders, SAD has biological origins. Human beings are fundamentally social animals; our ancestors needed to band together in order to survive. So being accepted by the group is a really important thing to most people. The fear of being ostracized from the group or being negatively viewed by our peers can be paralyzing.
Interestingly, SAD also has cultural underpinnings. In collectivist societies like those found in Asia, India, China and Latin America, there are low rates of social anxiety disorder. However, in individualist Western cultures such as the United States, SAD is quite prevalent. This makes sense because “we” cultures discourage individualism whereas “I” cultures promote it.
The silver lining behind SAD is that it can be effectively treated. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and medication are all options. We will discuss these choices more in our next blog on social anxiety disorder.
Have you struggled with SAD? What helps? What makes it worse? If you feel up to it, please share (anonymously is okay) your experiences with our community.