Social anxiety has made its foray into internet culture via viral memes, anonymous Reddit feeds, and shoppable merchandise. Should you feel so inclined to present your social anxiety to the world via screen-printed T-shirt, for example, you can do so. Social anxiety with your morning coffee? No problem. You can even advertise your social anxiety on a daily basis via custom-made Pamela Barsky clutch.
If the web is any indication, social anxiety disorder is an extremely common psychological condition. Roughly 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety, and it's the third most common psychological ailment after depression and alcoholism.
Listed below are five little-known facts about this widespread disorder, as reported by Forbes:
1. Social anxiety isn't the same as introversion or awkwardness.
Unlike introversion and awkwardness, social anxiety isn't necessarily a personality trait, or a fleeting emotion. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Strohman of the Technology Wellness Center, "[social anxiety] is more clearly defined as an excessive and unreasonable fear, which most people, who are just awkward or uncomfortable in social situations, wouldn't understand." Introverts, on the other hand, simply need "me time" in order to relax and recharge. People with social anxiety are prone to overanalyzing and may obsessively replay a particular social interaction in their heads—negative or positive.
2. Social anxiety is treatable.
Those suffering from social anxiety aren't destined to a life of fear and loneliness. Commonly treated through cognitive behavioral therapy, social anxiety can be tempered by mentally rewiring your thought processes along a more positive trajectory. With practice and the help of a therapist, sufferers can break the vicious cycle that often leads them down the path of physical and mental stress. To start treating anxiety today, try mentally comparing your anxious thoughts to what you know to be factually, irrevocably accurate. This allows you to begin looking outside of your anxiety, equipping you to rationally handle the given situation.
3. You can be genetically predisposed to feeling uncomfortable at parties.
A common misconception about social anxiety—or anxiety in general, for that matter—is that it's a sign of mental weakness. But social anxiety doesn't grow out of awkwardness or a personality type; you can be hardwired for it. According to occupational therapist Diomira Guerrero, "genetic traits that are inherited from the parents or other relatives can influence the way in which the brain feels and regulates anxiety, shyness, nerves, and stress."
4. Most people with social anxiety WANT to be social.
Social anxiety sufferers aren't necessarily opposed to socializing; their stressful response to it simply engenders an unpleasant sense of fear or nervousness. Oftentimes, the desire to socialize is there, but the anxiety is an unwanted deterrent, according to university professor and administrator Dr. Chester Goad.
5. Cliché as it sounds, meditation does help with social anxiety.
Don't let the trendiness of meditation deter you; it's an extremely useful tool for those suffering from social anxiety or mental health issues. A study published in The Harvard Gazette found that sufferers were at least partially relieved of their symptoms after two months of meditation training, as pointed out by Dr. Strohman.
Shop our favorite tools to combat social anxiety below: