In North America, social anxiety is usually defined as the fear of being watched and judged by others. When socially anxious, people fear humiliation and embarrassment. However, a more positive definition of social anxiety comes from the late Shoma Morita, a Japanese psychiatrist, who stated that social anxiety is a reflection of a person’s desire to do well. What a liberating definition! In this case, social anxiety can become a motivator, a facilitator. It can motivate you, for example, to prepare for a presentation, a job interview, or any task that needs doing and occurs in a social setting.
Typical social situations that trigger social anxiety:
a) Safety seeking behaviours: going out with same old friend, going only to familiar places, agreeing with the majority even if you really disagree, hiding behind bangs or non-descript clothing
b) Avoidance: not taking initiative, avoiding the social situation altogether, procrastinating, avoiding eye contact
c) Nervous gestures: talking too quietly, quickly, loudly, fidgeting, mumbling, stuttering, closed body posture
Normal Social Anxiety: Most people will experience social anxiety at some time in their lives. This is normal. They’ll experience social anxiety in certain unfamiliar social situations, but once they get involved, their anxiety evaporates.
Mild-Moderate Social Anxiety: Sometimes social anxiety interferes with life. Although confident in most areas, for instance, you might feel anxious when it comes to dancing and although you’ve often dreamt about taking dancing lessons, you feel anxious about how you’d look to others. As a result, you don’t even try the free lessons offered by the local Latino restaurant.
Moderate-Extreme Social Anxiety: About 13% percent of the population experience social anxiety to such an extent that they either have a habit of either avoiding social situations or enduring them with intense inner discomfort.
Extreme Social Anxiety: About 3% percent of the population are so afraid of rejection that they avoid people and situations as much as possible. They want to minimize not only the risk of rejection but also the risk of experiencing anxiety in the first place. At this end of the continuum, life becomes very restricted.