Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
We all know those moments — your chest tightens, your breathing quickens, your heart races and you can feel sweat building. These are some of the telltale symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety can come from stress at work and relationship issues, as well as concerns from self esteem to performance issues. It can also be caused or heightened by social situations.
Social anxiety is a term that gets thrown around without much discipline these days. There are probably friends or colleagues in your life who have said they have social anxiety.
Some of them may be self-diagnosed, and some of them may just dislike giving speeches in front of large crowds.
But for a group of people, social anxiety is far more intense and debilitating.
It can make even the most low-pressure social outing into a panic, and it can make the idea of being in a group setting so terrifying or repulsive that a sufferer will self-impose isolation, estrangement and loneliness just to avoid it.
Whether you’re here to learn more for yourself or a loved one, we have answers (and questions) to help you understand more about social anxiety. First, let’s start with the basics.
Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders that cause a range of negative emotions, from mild to severe — and including panic.
There’s a lot of overlap when it comes to symptoms, too. General anxiety sufferers may experience panic attacks from time to time, and panic sufferers may experience milder anxiety symptoms.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31.1 percent of adults in the U.S. experience some disorder of the anxiety type at some point in their lives.
There are a variety of specialized anxiety disorders as well, including seasonal affective disorder and social anxiety.
Social anxiety is somewhat special as anxiety disorders go, in that there’s a more specific trigger that can cause the symptoms: people.
Social anxiety doesn’t have to mean getting on stage or standing in a crowded place like Times Square, though. it can be caused by just a few people in far less confrontational circumstances.
Symptoms of anxiety generally include being easily fatigued, being irritable, having muscle tension, having difficulty sleeping, feeling restless or wound-up, feeling on edge, having difficulty concentrating or having problems controlling feelings of worry.
The National Institute of Mental Health adds other criteria to this list, including fear of judgment, feeling self conscious in everyday situations, avoidance of parties and meeting new people or avoiding work meetings.
It may manifest as shy or soft speech, with the sufferer making no eye contact and appearing stiff.
If you experience any of these in connection with upcoming or active social events, you may have some telltale signs of real-deal social anxiety.
For social anxiety sufferers, this can be their everyday experience — fatigued by social interactions, nervous or afraid of the day ahead of them and being irritable during, before or after.
You’re probably here because of the test we mentioned.
There are plenty of tests available around the Internet to help you find out if you meet criteria for a possible diagnosis, but it should be clear that even answering yes to every single question does not constitute a diagnosis — that must come from a healthcare professional with the appropriate qualifications.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a social anxiety test will proceed in a fairly straightforward manner.
A person responds to questions about various elements of social interaction and the feelings that it elicits, and a healthcare professional can then use the results of that test alongside other information to determine if treatment is needed for social anxiety.
Tests and other assessments are here for your benefit — it’s kind of like a checklist for before you consult a therapy professional or psychiatrist.
It can be incredibly beneficial to have this information as a first step in getting help, but as a final disclaimer, tests are not equal to the analysis of medical professionals.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can discuss some themes.
There are several common themes that a test for social anxiety will address, including what effects you experience from social situations, whether you’re aware of anxiety or fear and whether any of those symptoms affect your performance or day-to-day life.
According to a 2010 review from the journal Depression and Anxiety, you’ll likely be asked some of the following questions:
Do you have persistent fear in social or performance situations?
Do you fear that you will act in an embarrassing manner in social or performance situations?
Do you suffer from panic attacks in social situations?
Do you recognize that any fear you have in social situations is unreasonable?
Do you avoid social or performance situations?
Does your fear of social situations affect your day-to-day life?
Whether you found this test helpful or it left you with more questions, we have advice on what to do next.
The first thing: talk to a healthcare professional.
A qualified individual will be able to help you interpret your unique results and get a sense of what this might mean or not mean for your individual anxieties.
It’s possible your anxiety is unrelated to social situations. It’s possible your anxiety is the result of low self esteem or other issues that a therapy professional might be able to help with.
There are plenty of treatments available for all forms of anxiety — including social anxiety. Medications like propranolol and certain SSRIs are also effective at treating anxieties, and you may want to ask a healthcare professional more about that.
If you’re still looking for more information, we can help! Our guide to coping with anxiety explores available treatments for anxiety disorders in more detail, so you should check that out.