Feeling shy at parties or nervous about giving a speech doesn’t necessarily mean you have social anxiety disorder.
If your fears or anxieties don’t really bother you, you may not need treatment.
For instance, you may not like making speeches but you do so anyway without being overwhelmed by anxiety.
What sets social anxiety disorder apart from everyday nervousness is that its symptoms are much more severe and last much longer.
Social anxiety disorder disrupts your life, causes you distress and affects your daily activities.
Common, everyday experiences that may be difficult to endure when you have social anxiety disorder include:
* Using a public restroom or telephone
* Returning items to a store
* Interacting with strangers
* Writing in front of others
* Making eye contact
* Entering a room in which people are already seated
* Ordering food in a restaurant
* Being introduced to strangers
* Initiating conversations
Social anxiety disorder symptoms can change over time.
They may flare up if you’re facing a lot of stress or demands.
Or if you completely avoid situations that would usually make you anxious, you may not have symptoms.
Although avoidance may allow you to feel better in the short term, your anxiety is likely to persist over the long term if you don’t get treatment.
Tests and diagnosis
When you decide to seek treatment for symptoms of possible social anxiety disorder, you may have both a physical and psychological evaluation.
The physical exam can determine if there may be any physical causes triggering your symptoms.
There’s no laboratory test to diagnose social anxiety disorder, however.
Your doctor or mental health provider will ask you to describe your signs and symptoms, how often they occur and in what situations.
He or she may review a list of situations to see if they make you anxious or have you fill out psychological questionnaires or self-assessments to help pinpoint a diagnosis.
To be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, someone must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
Criteria for social anxiety disorder to be diagnosed include:
* A persistent fear of social situations in which you believe you may be scrutinized or act in a way that’s embarrassing or humiliating.
* These social situations cause you a great deal of anxiety.
* You recognize your anxiety level is excessive or out of proportion for the situation.
* You avoid anxiety-producing social situations.
* Your anxiety or distress interfere with your daily living.