Social Anxiety is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. For those who suffer, being unable to breathe and having panic attacks are regular occurrences. But is it misunderstood as shyness?

Social Anxiety Disorder is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today and it affects approximately 7% of the population at any given time.

Shyness involves social avoidance and withdrawal as well as passivity and excessive self-focus. Shyness often makes people feel excessively uncomfortable and anxious in social situations.

But this not described as a mental health problem so does that make the two conditions different?

According to YouTuber Becky Sheeran, the answer is yes, it is two totally different things:

Becky Sheeran

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But what actually is Social Anxiety? According to Social Anxiety UK, ‘Many people have particular worries about social situations or experience more general feelings of shyness’ but ‘for some these social anxieties can become much more difficult to cope with.

Everyday tasks such as working, socialising, shopping and even just going out of the house might be an ordeal marked by persistent feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness’.

“Social anxiety physically grips your stomach and makes you feel depressed at timeS”
Becky Sheeran

Mahwish Qamar, the counsellor at the Sibford Friends School in Oxfordshire, disagrees with Becky and thinks there is more to these conditions:

People with Social Anxiety usually experience significant distress in these situations:

  • Being introduced to other people
  • Being teased or criticised
  • Being the centre of attention
  • Being watched or observed while doing something
  • Having to say something in a formal, public situation
  • Meeting people in authority
  • Embarrassing easily
  • Meeting other peoples’ eyes
  • Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
Social Anxiety Association, 2016

Jonathan Freeman, 22, is a sufferer and was officially diagnosed in January 2015. He said that there is a distinction for him.

“I think quite often we have situations where we’re going to feel a bit shy. But where the situation is making the person feel uncomfortable within themselves and they don’t feel like they can be themselves, that for me is where it crosses the line,” he said.

“It’s fair enough being shy about going into an interview, but when it’s happening every day unnecessarily and you know you don’t feel anxious about the situation but your body is telling you that you do, that’s where it stops being shyness and from people thinking you’re just being silly to something that’s actually happening to you.”

Jonathan Freeman.
Gemma Parr, 31, works as a teaching assistant at Warren Primary Academy in Nottingham and, like Jonny, is a sufferer of Social Anxiety. For her too, it is more than shyness. She explained what her social anxiety is like:

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“I can get very emotional, very tearful, my heart races and i can’t think properly”
Gemma Parr

But, unlike shyness, social anxiety can be worsened by other conditions. Ben Cresswell, 9, suffers from it along with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ben's ToolkitHe has a “toolkit” that he has filled with toys and objects that help his condition.

He also has a swing in his room that helps him to calm down when he gets anxious. He explained how it feels:

“It’s uncomfortable and a bit confusing because sometimes it’s just like something happens and you’re wondering what to do next. But mum’s a big help.”

“I want to be a nasa scientist, an astronomer or a football player and my anxiety’s not going to stop me”
Ben cresswell

Social anxiety, despite being sometimes seen as a severe form of shyness, is a mental condition that is a lot more than this. Contrary to what it may appear to be on the surface, it is a debilitating disorder that is becoming more common in society.

Campaigners believe, there are a lot more young people coming forward with it and it is something that needs to be given more recognition.

“Raise the profile and campaign for change, so that in future, people don’t have to suffer in silence” – Social Anxiety UK

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If you need any help or advice, contact: admin@socialanxietysupportchat.com or you can visit: http://www.talk2gether.nhs.uk/social-phobia