Because we’re not alone.
Social anxiety is a term that strikes fear into many of us as it is a pervasive affliction. But if you’ve had nights lying awake, recounting the awkward things you did that day, you’re not alone. It shouldn’t be so hard to just be “normal” around other people, we reason — and as much as that may make us feel bad, the reality is our social anxiety usually isn’t as bad as it seems in our heads.
According to DoSomething.org, approximately 10 percent of teenagers and a whopping 40 percent of adults experience anxiety of some kind. There are many types of anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), various phobias and more. If not centered around social anxiety, many of them include aspects of trouble in social scenarios and forming relationships.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists many numbers relating to these disorders, revealing that women are statistically more commonly afflicted by anxiety than men. GAD affects about 6.8 million adults, or roughly 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, and panic disorder affects 6 million or 2.7 percent. For both, women are twice as likely as men to be affected. Social anxiety is found in 15 million or 6.8 percent, and specific phobias 19 million or 8.7 percent. Social anxiety is about the same in women and men, but specific phobias also affect women twice as much as men.
So with all these negative stats in mind, what’s the silver lining?
A very serious effect of anxiety is that it is in many cases accompanied by depression. And while the idea that “misery loves company” is dark and negative in essence, it does hold some truth: Knowing there are others out there that suffer the same baffling inability to connect socially as you, can be very comforting. In fact, that knowledge can even lead to a way out.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that only 40 percent of those with an anxiety disorder are receiving treatment. Given that nearly 30 percent of adults with social phobias are cases classified as “severe,” it’s likely a fair amount of people with serious anxiety are living without any treatment. Some 36 percent of people with social anxiety disorder actually report having symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking any help.
Although many with social anxiety understand that their feelings could be irrational and made bigger than reality in their own heads, they often feel powerless to do anything about the situation. This can seep into every aspect of life, and make it difficult to hold a job, go to school, date and beyond.
If you feel overpowered by feelings of social anxiety, it might be easy to just go online and poke fun with random memes to feel better about it. But what would feel even better is connecting with a person in real life. So if you think social anxiety is affecting you in serious way, seek out others who hold similar anxiety deep down, and perhaps you’ll be on the track to conquering social fears. Together, you can bring each other up or find professional help if need be.
And those of you who see others acting awkward — think twice before laughing and making them feel worse about it. It could be more out of their control than you think.
Cover image: Flickr