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Shyness & Social Anxiety Explained

Aug 18, 2007
Do you fear any or all of the following situations: asking the staff of a restaurant if you can use their public toilet; writing in any public area (such as a mall or eating place); having to speak up to authority figures; performing in public (such as playing a musical instrument, singing, or dancing); taking an exam in school; or even just simply eating and drinking in a public place? If you answered yes about any of these, you may be afflicted with a serious kind of shyness called social anxiety.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is characterized by a fear of being ridiculed by others and a desire to secure the approval of other people (even when you do not approve of your own behavior.) According to the World Psychiatric Association, 3% to 15% of the global population can be considered as suffering from it, but of this number only a mere 25% of them go for counseling or psychological treatment.

Who can get social anxiety?

No on is immune from it. Both men and women can come down with it, regardless of the culture they were brought up in. Experts think that the problem starts at adolescence - around 40% of known cases usually start before the patient is 10 years of age.

What makes it more prevalent is the fact that it can be an inherited or learned trait as well. We cannot do much about inherited traits but we can prevent people at risk from learning to develop it.

The difference between shyness and social anxiety:

Common shyness differs from the more serious condition of social anxiety in that patients who merely are shy tend to have a generalized hesitancy to interact with other people. People with genuine social anxiety usually fear specific social or occupational situations, such as public speaking or singing before a crowd.

Physiological reactions from social anxiety:

A person with full-blown social anxiety will physically experience headaches, tense muscles, sweating or blushing when he has to face the specific situation he fears. That is one way to determine if you have the condition. However, some individuals who also have social anxiety report that they do not experience the above physiological reactions. Instead, they only feel extremely self conscious, apprehensive or afraid.

People who are socially anxious are quite sensitive about it and do not usually admit to having it right away. If there are people around the patient who care about him, it is advisable for them to be quite tactful about bringing up the possibility that the person has social anxiety, based on what they observed about him. In time, the patient may admit that he does have a problem - only then can he be treated for it.

Identifying with well-known people

It helps the patient if the counselor informs him that popular people also have come down with shyness/social anxiety. (The most recent case is Donny Osmond, who revealed his condition in a July 2007 public interview.) The counselor may then be able to broach treatment options for the patient, after he feels more open to it.
About the Author
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters
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