Articles Mental Health

Mythbusters: Social Anxiety

Being Anxious is Normal

The state of being anxious is a common as well as a normal human mechanism that has been in existence since Homo Sapiens came into being. Anxiety allows us to function better, combining our primal needs with psychological benefits to give us a two-pronged reward for indulging in basic survival mechanisms. Anxiety can be considered for humans, a constant reminder of the survival instinct. Whenever humans don’t indulge in survival activities like eating food, drinking water, or even consummation, we feel anxious. This anxiousness subsides when we accomplish the relevant task, and after it is completed, our body secretes neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Serotonin, which give us positive reinforcement regarding the behavior. Consequentially this reward mechanism makes sure that at a fundamental level, every human being continually indulges in activities that keep him/her and, in turn, the species alive.

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However, due to the growing human consciousness, our survival instincts have also changed. Food is no longer a priority since it is readily available, along with water, shelter, and all other survival tools. Our Anxiety for survival has now been replaced by a need to be accepted socially, all thanks to social media and a society bent on pressing down socially awkward individuals. Anxiety in itself is not abnormal; its connection to non-tangible threats and subjective parameters of success is.

Social Anxiety is Common

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According to WHO’s report, 7.5 percent of India’s population suffers from some kind of mental disease, out of which 38 million people suffer from Anxiety Disorders (Source: On top of that, more than 10 million cases are diagnosed every year in India alone. So if you think that you’re the only one, be rest assured that there are many people like you who are going through the same. The degree of anxiety in every person, of course, varies as we discussed, and depending on the degree, patients undergo different treatment regimes. By indulging in activities -including medication and psychotherapy if necessary- that can help the brain relax and get rid of the anxiety will ultimately help you cope up with this debilitating feeling and take back control of your life. There is an end to this remorse and constant anxiety.

Panic & Anxiety are not Same

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A panic attack is defined as a sudden onslaught of fear or tension, that is triggered by the anticipation or existence of an uncomfortable situation. Anxiety attack, on the other hand, is the most well-known symptom of Generalized Anxiety disorder. Although seemingly different, there is one fundamental difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. A panic attack does not involve any physical symptoms, but an anxiety attack has many physiological symptoms like high breathing rate, elevated heartbeat, etc. The reason behind this stark contrast is that when fear of social situations or any anxiety causing trigger becomes so deep-rooted in your mind that it starts interfering with your day to day life, it crosses the psychological barrier and manifests itself in the form of physiological symptoms. Panic attack, on the other hand, is limited to the brain and, although quite debilitating, doesn’t involve any readily available physical symptoms. This is the reason panic and anxiety are confused with each other quite often.

Anxiety Disorder is Real

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Social Anxiety Disorder is a diagnosable condition in which social situations incite in the patient an irrational uneasiness or, at the worst, an anxiety attack. An anxious brain equates social situations with stress, and with time, that belief manifests in the body. As the condition progresses, the problem becomes physiological even when its roots are psychological. When that happens, anytime the patient is about to enter a social situation or even a conversation, their mind registers the existence of a threat. This starts the flight or fight mechanism of the body, which, of course, is nothing abnormal. What is not normal is that since the threat itself is not something tangible, the brain doesn’t know when to stop the flight or fight reaction. Until the body feels the apparent danger has subsided, it doesn’t stop secreting adrenaline, which results in a cycle of constant adrenaline secretion, which slowly builds up into an anxiety attack. This makes Anxiety not only real but also seemingly inescapable.

Depression is Different

It’s a common misconception that all mental health disorders are the same. To that effect, Anxiety Disorder and Depression are two entirely different psychological ailments having varied symptoms and manifestation mechanisms. Of course, since both of these ailments have their roots in mind, there is a high chance that the underlying reason behind them might be the same. After all, depression, anxiety, and other similar ailments stem from psychological trauma. That, however, does not mean that the way these diseases present themselves are also the same. Every brain is different, and hence the reaction to the same psychologically challenging event for one person might be depression and for another might be anxiety.

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It depends upon a plethora of factors including but not limited to the personality of the patient, family history including genetics, and the environment he grew up in. Depression differs from anxiety in the way that it is a depressive ailment. A depressed person feels a constant sense of doom and finds it very difficult to indulge even in the basic survival activities. Anxiety, however, more often than not, is triggered by uncomfortable social situations. Several studies done on the subject clearly show that the treatment options required for Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder are quite different. Still, it’s quite common to see the two ailments being misdiagnosed as the other. A prime example is that the treatment of anxiety is done through SSRIs, which are anti-depressants. This is because there are anti-anxiety meds that can be prescribed as viable options.

It’s Not Every Time about Strangers

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Though anxiety quite commonly is associated with social situations and the fear of talking to strangers, it’s not always the case. Interacting with strangers for the first time might incite irrational fears in every person. However, sometimes interacting with people that you know can also result in paralyzing anxiety. The fear of judgment, inability to match up to society’s unrealistic standards, and making small talk with people you don’t like are few of the inherent reasons due to which patients start feeling social anxiety. And since meeting people who you know and not necessarily enjoy talking to can’t be avoided, it can make the effect prolonged. Infact although social situations are the most common cause of anxiety, there are many other triggers that directly or indirectly contribute to making Anxiety a disorder rather than a natural experience.

In our next issue of Mental Health, we’ll discuss how to deal with these anxious social situations. Stay Tuned to Suburban Wordsmith for that.

More Mental Health Articles?

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8 Things People With Anxiety Secretly Do

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