After spending a year full of lockdowns and restrictions, the majority of us are more than excited to have things go back to normal. We are meeting again with our friends, attending classes on campus, and going out. That's not the case for 7% of the European population, though. 

Social Anxiety disorder, known also as SAD is a rather popular term amongst young adults. I have personally heard it being used by many, which spiked my curiosity around the topic. There is quite a difference between having this condition and just being shy for example. In fact, this is one of the most frequent misconceptions about Social Anxiety! 

Let's talk about shyness and why SAD is different? 

Shyness seems to be widely associated with social anxiety disorder, and while it is easy to assume that both things mean the same, we couldn't be further from the truth. According to research, less than 25% of shy people meet the criteria for Social anxiety disorder. 

Whilst being shy or introverted are character traits, social anxiety disorder is a medical condition. The biggest difference between shyness and SAD comes from the extent to which they affect a person’s daily life. When put in a social setting, shy people have the tendency to stick with close friends and family, and even if they blush or get sweaty palms, these symptoms usually go away after they begin to feel more comfortable. What’s important to understand is that shyness is not preventing one from experiencing life to the fullest, even though they might hesitate to make a phone call, or inform the waiter they got a wrong order. 

People suffering from SAD, however, usually want to socialize and make friends, but the fear of being judged and the levels of anxiety are so high, they will try to avoid social activities at all costs. These people tend to worry obsessively over social events for days or months before. The levels of anxiety are so high that it affects their everyday life as they make choices based on fear and avoidance. It is not a rare occasion that they might even drop off school or work. Unfortunately, it is very common to mistake Social Anxiety Disorder for shyness, and most people go through their life without treatment, which causes the symptoms to only get worse with time. 

Do I have social anxiety disorder? 

I believe many have asked themselves this question as it is common to feel nervous before a big event, or when having to speak publicly. For people with social anxiety it goes way beyond that.  

The symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder are presented by obsessive negative thoughts, trembling, sweating, and even panic attacks. Around others, people with social anxiety disorder  avoid eye contact and feel very self-conscious.  

It is important for people experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, and are in doubt whether they have social anxiety or not, to talk to a professional as this condition can be successfully treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, self-help strategies, and support groups.  

It is hard to imagine what a person with Social Anxiety Disorder goes through every day, as this condition tends to affect almost every aspect of one’s life. Not only that, but it often goes hand in hand with other mental health illnesses. It can also lead to depression, especially when left untreated. That's why it is important to be understanding and offer support to anyone experiencing even the mildest symptoms. A way to do this is by having a friendly, comforting talk with this person without judging them, or pushing them to cross their boundaries as they are already experiencing unbearable levels of stress. Instead, we can just offer a different point of view and make them realize that their fears are not irrelevant - just a product of a very common, and most importantly, successfully treated condition.