The search for a diagnosis is generally empowering. And yet, many people who suspect that they have Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) would think twice before consulting a mental health professional. This is because they have so many misconceptions about this condition, misconceptions that can keep them from getting the assistance they need. They would rather not know what they have, than have it confirmed to be SAD.
If you suspect that you may have Social Anxiety Disorder, or you know someone exhibiting SAD symptoms, you may be subscribing to the following myths:
MYTH: All people get self-conscious and embarrassed. It’s no big deal.
TRUTH: It’s true that anxiety is a normal reaction to being around other people. It’s natural to want people to like us and approve of what we do. Nervousness is also understandable when many things are at stake with your good performance.
People with Social Anxiety Disorder, however, don’t experience anxiety the way most do. For them, the anxiety is overwhelming and debilitating, and defies logic and reason. It can be so extreme, that it can cause significant problems in their work and relationships.
MYTH: A diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder means that you’re crazy.
TRUTH: Crazy and insane are derogatory terms meant to stigmatize persons with mental health conditions. But having Social Anxiety Disorder is no different from having a physical illness, like diabetes. What it simply means is that you have limited psychological resources to deal with a crisis, and need help to better cope.
MYTH: It’s all in your head.
FACT: This myth is related to the first one. Many assume that Social Anxiety Disorder is just a figment of a person’s imagination. Others think that it is a deliberate choice to exaggerate negative feelings, and therefore can be dealt with by simply willing it to go away.
There is some truth to the idea that social anxiety is ‘in your head’. Research shows that anxiety symptoms get worse because of irrational thoughts. Examples of these irrational thinking include “I can’t make a mistake.” and “Everyone must like me.” Consciously halting these self-defeating ways of thinking can help you deal with social anxiety reactions better.
MYTH: Social Anxiety Disorder is not a medical condition.
FACT: Social Anxiety Disorder is both a psychological and a physiological condition. Many of the symptoms of anxiety are physical, such as shortness of breath, palpitation, ulcer and migraine. If left untreated, Social Anxiety Disorder is also strongly linked to hypertension, heart problems and gastro-intestinal disorders. It is recommended then that a person suffering from SAD also consults a licensed physician.
More so, the cause of SAD can be physical. People with serotonin imbalance in their brains are more prone to anxiety attacks. Serotonin regulates mood and affect, and an imbalance of serotonin makes it more difficult for a person to respond adequately to a stressful situation.
MYTH: If you have Social Anxiety Disorder, your only option is psychoactive medication.
FACT: People who take anti-anxiety medication often find them helpful in addressing symptoms. Like previously mentioned, SAD has a physiological component to it, making a physiological intervention appropriate.
That said, psychoactive medications are not your only option. Many non-drug therapies, such as counseling and hypnosis, are available in the market if you do not think that medications are the right fit for you. There are also natural alternatives to medication available in many health stores. For your safety, however, don’t make decisions on the use of drugs or drug alternatives without consulting a licensed professional.