Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Do you find yourself avoiding crowds? Are you more comfortable alone or in a small group? Do you typically cancel plans to get some "you" time? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might think you're an introvert. You might be wrong. If the thought of social interaction makes your heart race and your palms sweat, this could be a sign of social anxiety disorder. According to the UK's National Collaborating Center for Mental Health, social anxiety is: The persistent fear of one or more social situations where embarrassment may occur and the fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation as determined by the person's cultural norms. How can you tell if you're an introvert or if you're socially anxious? Here are 5 signs it might be social anxiety. It's egodystonic. Do you actually enjoy being alone? In a 2020 interview, clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula points out that introversion is egosyntonic. This means introverts enjoy being alone and recharge this way rather than going out to blow off some steam. Social anxiety, on the other hand, is egodystonic, meaning it's out of touch with your preferences. Many people with social anxiety are actually extroverts who love the company of others, but they isolate themselves out of fear, which makes them miserable. Dr. Durvasula summarizes the differences with this beautiful quote: "Introversion is your way..." "Social phobia is in your way." Let's say your friends invite you to hang out at the mall. If you're an introvert, you might decline because you truly prefer to relax alone. After you decline, you also don't worry about what they think of that. If you have social anxiety, you might feel compelled to decline, even though you want to go out. Being around your friends makes you feel like Piglet from "Winnie the Pooh". Your anxiety may have you convinced they secretly hate you or that you need to watch your every move so that your fear outweighs your desire to hang out. Now, you're home, wishing you could be outside, with closed blinds and a phone on airplane mode. This is not introversion. All eyes are on you. Do you worry that others talk about you behind your back a lot? According to the National Collaborating Center for Mental Health, people with social anxiety are constantly on the lookout for negative judgment, embarrassment, or humiliation. It's natural to wonder what others might think about you, but not if it's a constant and overwhelming worry. These worries aren't just small doubts, but often full-blown anxiety attacks. A study by Temple University investigated the causes of social anxiety and found that the distress was as intense as post-traumatic stress syndrome. Let's say you're stuck in a dinner party conversation. If you're an introvert, this might be your own personal torture. Your inner monologue might sound like, "How can anyone enjoy these boring conversations? How long do I have to smile and nod?" "When can I leave and go home to do something enjoyable?" But if it's social anxiety, you might feel like you're being buried under an avalanche, and your inner monologue might sound more like, "Am I sweating? Can everyone tell how nervous I am? Do I look stupid? Did I say something dumb?" Over and over again. Your inner monologue can be a great clue as to whether you're introverted or have social anxiety. Thinking at light speed. Contrary to popular belief, social anxiety is not just about large events like performances or public speaking⏤these things would make most people anxious. Social anxiety therapist Arlin Cuncic notes that social anxiety torments people during smaller events like answering the phone, buying groceries, or getting a haircut. It's not just about how large the interaction is; it happens anytime others are around. Let's say you got some lunch at the food court and you need to walk across the room to get to an empty table. As you walk, you might be wondering if everyone is staring, chanting not to trip in your head, questioning if you look cool, or asking yourself if they can tell you're nervous. All the while, you feel your brain has been hijacked by fear from inside out. You suspect it's not normal to be shaken by such a small thing, and you're right. A neuro-imaging study by the West China Hospital of Sichuan University showed that the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates stress, has an overactive and debilitating fear response in those with social anxiety. So, next time you're overthinking, thank your amygdala. Think, think, and think some more. How much preparation do you put into social interactions? Do you rehearse it like a performance? Do you wonder about all the ways that you could fail before it happens? Studies published in the"Journal of Abnormal Psychology" and the "Transylvanian Journal of Psychology" showed that social anxiety traps you in an inescapable whirlwind of anxious thoughts for weeks before an anticipated event, and even weeks afterward. Let's say you want to call to order a pizza. Instead of just calling, you rehearse for half an hour, practicing every word to make sure you don't mess up. After you finally mustered the courage and make the call, you reflect on the entire conversation over and over in your mind. You stay up at night wondering if you made any mistake, with thoughts like, "Why did the other person pause after I spoke?" "Did they think my question was stupid?" "Did they cough or were they quietly laughing at me?" and so on. These types of thoughts can mean you're dealing with social anxiety. Sugar, we're going down. Like we mentioned before, social anxiety can last for weeks. But how long can it last? A long-term study published in the "American Journal of Psychiatry" showed that the average patient has symptoms for 19 years⏤if gone untreated. The isolation created by social anxiety can swallow your whole life. Let's say you get invited to a vacation and opt out because you think the others will laugh at where you want to go. When you succumb to this fear, this can create a domino effect that can cause you to drop out of everything else in your life. School, work, day trips, gatherings, eating out, and anything involving other people. Even when withdrawing from social life impacts your daily life, you still continue until it's no longer healthy. Research by Harvard Medical School Professor Ronald C. Kessler showed that patients suffering from social anxiety have significantly lower rates of getting and keeping friends, graduating school, getting and keeping a job, getting married, and having children. Don't fret. Now that you're aware, this doesn't have to be you. If your social avoidance is out of touch with your inner desires, is driven by intense fear, prevents you from basic functions, triggers many anxious thoughts, or causes total withdrawal, you might have social phobia and not introversion. Luckily, there is help. There are many effective treatments, like role-playing social situations, gradual exposure to real-life social situations, eliminating safety behaviors, learning how to relax on cue, and reframing anxious thoughts. If you suffer from social anxiety, please seek professional help. We at Psych2Go believe in you; we've been there. If you made it to the end, drop a blue-heart emoji in the comments below and let us know if you think you have social anxiety or are introverted. Until next time.