Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a stigmatized disorder, and we need to separate social anxiety disorder and shyness to decrease stigma (What Is Stigma?). Some people say that people with SAD are just shy, which is perceived as cute, and if we were to go out more it wouldn’t be so bad. This belief does not separate shyness from social anxiety disorder, and they are not decreasing the stigma around social anxiety disorder.
Decrease Stigma of Social Anxiety Disorder: You Aren’t Shy Because You Experience SAD
In my experience, I was always the “shy girl.” I wasn’t social, I embarrassed very easily, I kept my nose in a book and didn’t bother anyone. I was constantly told to stop being shy, just go out and talk to people or do things, and I’d be fine (Extroverts Experience Social Anxiety Disorder, Too).
The label never felt right to me. What I felt wasn’t cute, nor did it go away even when I pushed myself. It was a paralyzing fear with blood running cold while my body overheated, my ears rung, and my mind spun out of control (Social Anxiety: A Spectrum From Shy to Avoidant).
Ultimately, I was made to feel if I only tried harder, I wouldn’t feel the way I did. What people don’t seem to understand is that people with anxiety try their hardest.
Four Ways to Decrease Stigma for Social Anxiety Disorder
- Do your research. Knowledge is power and doing thorough research using legitimate anxiety resources can tell you what you need to know about anxiety or any other mental health issue. Understand that mental health disorders are not a choice, but rather a matter of brain chemicals and brain structures. Knowing what someone is going through, at least on an intellectual level, can help because then you can share that information with others, too.
- Realize individual limitations. Mental health is one of the most difficult things to manage, and when we’re struggling, everything else can be difficult to manage, too. For some people, they need to step away and take a breath to collect themselves. For others, plunging right in is the solution to conquer, or at least subdue, their minds, but even that has its limitations, too. And it doesn’t mean one person is not trying and the other is; people just deal with things differently.
- Understand there’s a physical side to anxiety. While anxiety is a mental disorder, our bodies react to it as well, as I described in my own experience above. Many experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headaches, and other such negative physical effects. Those can be just as difficult to conquer as the mental struggles and most difficult to conquer when trying to handle both at once (Anxiety Symptoms: Recognizing Signs of Anxiety).
- Realize anxiety is not cute. One of the problems is that because anxiety and shyness get confused, the images of shyness can get placed on anxiety, too. To be honest, even when I think shyness, I think of a little child peering around a parent’s leg, assessing the situation with a curious expression. And while a child with anxiety might also be hiding behind a parents’ leg, the expression is not one of curiosity, but caution, potentially even terror. Worry about what might be beyond that safe space of that leg.
When we grow up, that safe space turns into staying home, staying in bed, staying just within the limits of what we know we can do and handle. The way we learn to cope with anxiety changes and shifts all the time.
But it never means we’re not trying. Don’t misunderstand. Decrease stigma for social anxiety disorder.