Mental illness is still widely misunderstood by a lot of people and having these discussions helps us move closer to being taken seriously. The trouble with their still being misconceptions about mental illness is that if the misconception is not challenged then the mental illness still has that stigma attached to it – as long as there are stigmas attached to mental illness, it doesn’t get the full support it deserves.
Here’s a list of some of the social anxiety myths and misconceptions that often present themselves either from people who don’t have the disorder or from simply being diagnosed and not fully understanding what social anxiety is all about…
10 Social Anxiety Myths
Social Anxiety Myth 1: Social Anxiety is just being shy.
Social anxiety is not just a case of being really shy. Not everyone with a social anxiety disorder is shy and not everyone who is shy has a social anxiety disorder but I because everyone has a level of social anxiety, including shy people, I believe that’s where the misconception comes from.
Social anxiety disorder is much more than just being shy. Shy is a personality trait, social anxiety disorder is a mental illness that affects you day-to-day and if untreated can impact your life severely.
It’s important to separate the two as a social anxiety disorder may go untreated if it’s just brushed off as “shyness”.
Social Anxiety Myth 2: It can’t hurt you.
All that extreme worry comes with a whole host of physical symptoms, including: breathing difficulties, headaches, heart palpitations, shaking, nausea and sickness, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, trouble swallowing food, sweating, chest pains, faintness etc. and when you’re experiencing those physical symptoms on a regular basis because of your social anxiety is can put intense stress on your body.
I once lost 2.5 stone in 3 weeks just from pure anxiety. I felt hideous. I wasn’t eating much and I was being sick every day because the nerves were too much. It was a horrible time but I can’t imagine how bad it could have gotten if I didn’t go to the doctors and get it treated.
Social Anxiety Myth 3: It’s just an excuse.
Nobody with any sense would want to use a mental illness as an excuse to get out of doing things. Who really wants to admit that they’re scared of people, that they shake and feel sweaty and panicky in social situations and that the thought of an impending social event makes them feel sick? Nobody wants that as an excuse.
An excuse is “I have to work that night” or “Oh I can’t, I’ve made other plans”. “I have a mental disorder that affects my day-to-day life” is NOT an excuse.
It’s a serious condition that not only affects people mentally and emotionally but physically too! Most people with social anxiety find it incredibly difficult to tell people about their disorder, so if someone has told you about their anxiety then they have worked really hard at getting to that point, which shouldn’t be trivialised by calling it an excuse.
Social Anxiety Myth 4: You have to be an introvert to have Social Anxiety.
I’m definitely not an introvert, I’m the complete opposite and even though sometimes I need to “recharge” after social activities that make me really anxious, I still don’t like being alone during those times either. When my social anxiety disorder was exceptionally severe, I desperately wanted to be around people, to go to parties, to go to coffee shops and go for meals out. I just couldn’t because my social anxiety stopped me from doing so and held me back.
Sure you can have social anxiety and be an introvert but you can also have social anxiety and be an extrovert. Introversion is a personality trait, a social anxiety disorder is not – it’s a mental illness. Lots of introverts can socialise without much issue but just choose not to because that’s what they prefer whereas a person with a social anxiety disorder may prefer to be around people but their disorder stops them from being able to do that.
The more I overcome my social anxiety, the more I realise I’m without a doubt a fully fledged extrovert.
Social Anxiety Myth 5: You should avoid going out if you have Social Anxiety.
Avoidance is the worst thing you can do for social anxiety. Sometimes you just can’t do it or the situation is far too extreme for the severity of your anxiety but avoiding every social outing is only going to give your anxiety a breeding ground. Jumping in the deep end isn’t always the best answer, in fact that rarely works but doing little things bit by bit that make you anxious until it is more comfortable will help you more than avoiding going out altogether.
Social Anxiety Myth 6: You can “just get over it”.
I’m sure most of us with social anxiety have heard the phrase “just get over it” before but we all know that’s not how it works. Social anxiety disorders are serious and if we could just get over it or “grow some balls” then we would definitely do that. It isn’t fun to have social anxiety, it’s pretty bloody miserable actually.
If only it was as easy as “just getting over it”, there is a long process on learning how to manage or overcome anxiety and it’s not something anyone can easily snap out of.
Social Anxiety Myth 7: Drinking alcohol will help.
I’ll be the first to admit that after a glass of Prosecco I feel a bit more confident but using alcohol as a crutch for anxiety is a dangerous game. It’s a safety behaviour that can lead to a dependence every time you feel anxious in social situations but the thing is, once the initial confidence boosting effects of alcohol wear off, it can worsen your anxiety.
Any kind of safety behaviour keeps your anxiety from getting better but depending on alcohol can actually make it worse and it’s terrible for your physical health when abused.
Social Anxiety Myth 8: Everyone experiences Social Anxiety the same way.
Social anxiety isn’t the same for everyone at all. Everyone has different triggers and are at different levels of severity. You might think that because someone can get on stage and sing in a band they can’t possibly suffer from social anxiety but that person may not be able to do things another socially anxious person can do, like get on public transport alone. Everyone is different.
Social Anxiety Myth 9: Social Anxiety only comes from trauma.
Sometimes trauma can cause social anxiety and it can certainly worsen it but it’s not the case for every person with social anxiety. Sometimes social anxiety is developed over time, a product of our environment or upbringing, brought on by a change in lifestyle etc. Lots of different things cause social anxiety, there’s not just one specific thing.
Social Anxiety Myth 10: Social Anxiety is just a “teenage thing”
Nobody is immune to developing social anxiety, it certainly isn’t exclusive to teenagers. I can definitely understand why it would be more prevalent in teenagers however, as high school is probably the worst if you have a social anxiety disorder. High school definitely made my anxiety worse and it wasn’t just the bullying, it was also the presentations, the group activities, the reading in front of class, being put on the spot, having to change in front of all the other girls before P.E. I hated it.
Having said that, I often receive messages from people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s asking for advice relating to their social anxiety. It can hit anyone at any point their lives.