Socially anxious people are not just shy people. Social anxiety should not be mistaken for shyness. This medical condition is an intense fear of social situations that can cause physical symptoms like sweating, racing heart, and shaking, and impact the person’s quality of life.
What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a condition characterized by a significant amount of persistent fear in one or more social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life.
This irrational fear can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. People with social anxiety often avoid social situations altogether and dread meeting unfamiliar people. They may miss work, school, and important life events because they are too afraid to face them. Individuals with this type of intense anxiety may experience symptoms such as:
- rapid heart rate
- muscle tension
- high blood pressure
- difficulty breathing
Social anxiety can include fear of talking to people, fear of negative judgment, and fear of doing something embarrassing. People with social anxiety often worry for days or weeks before an event, especially if a public performance is involved. They may avoid social situations altogether or go but feel very anxious and uncomfortable the whole time.
Social phobia can be debilitating and make people feel embarrassed, ashamed, and lonely. However, social anxiety does not include an aversion to being alone. In fact, many people with social anxiety are introverts who enjoy being alone.
This type of anxiety disorder usually starts in childhood or early adolescence but can begin at any age. Social anxiety is common in people with other disorders, and it can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It can be a moderate or severe problem that affects a person’s personal, social, and occupational life and trigger many negative effects, including depression, isolation, and low self-esteem (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Social anxiety is common among all social groups. However, the LGBTQ+ population is more likely to be affected than other groups. This is because of the stigma, discrimination, and lack of acceptance of LGBTQ individuals by society.
How social anxiety can be exacerbated by coming out and living as a minority
Statistics show that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population. One study found that 61% of trans men and 49% of trans women met the criteria for at least one lifetime psychiatric disorder.
There are several reasons why social anxiety may be more common among LGBTQ individuals. First, coming out can be a stressful experience. Second, living as a minority can be isolating and lead to feelings of being different or not belonging. Finally, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people are still prevalent, which can cause fear and anxiety.
While feeling isolated or different can lead to depression, some LGBTQ individuals may also experience gender dysphoria. This is a sense of discomfort and distress with one’s assigned gender, such as an intense desire to be the other sex. Gender dysphoria can occur in individuals who were raised as members of their birth gender and are now moving toward a different gender identity.
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The impact social anxiety has on transgender folks
Transgender folks experience social anxiety at higher rates than cisgender people, which can profoundly impact their lives. Social anxiety can make it difficult to form and maintain relationships, participate in work or school, and even leave the house. Social anxiety can be debilitating for transgender people who are already struggling with their mental health.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that transgender people are at an increased risk for anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation, and social anxiety is often a contributing factor. In a study conducted by researchers from San Francisco State University, it was found that transgender individuals were approximately three times more likely than others to experience a mental disorder.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, approximately half of transgender people experience high rates of job discrimination. The low employment rate of transgender individuals is a significant factor in the high poverty and unemployment rates among transgender people. In addition, transgender people are more likely to experience homelessness and suicide than the general population. Unemployment and lack of affordable housing can contribute to other health issues, including depression and substance abuse.
How to manage social anxiety in day-to-day life
Despite the challenges, effective treatments and self-care strategies can help reduce social anxiety in LGBTQ individuals. The first thing you need to do is develop a support network. This can be your friends, family, or other LGBTQ people who are willing to listen and help you by providing positive feedback.
Socialize with other members of the LGBTQ community. This is a great way to reduce social anxiety among transgender individuals. Take the time to learn who you are and be patient and compassionate with yourself. Having a strong sense of identity is key to reducing social anxiety.
Participate in social activities. You don’t need to be the center of attention, but joining a group or club can help you gain confidence and improve your social skills. Try to avoid situations that could trigger you or try to cope with them by going for a walk or talking about it with someone. However, don’t avoid social situations altogether. Simply pick less stressful situations.
Ask other LGBTQ people for their advice. Sometimes, it is good to ask someone who has gone through the same life experiences as you have. This can help reduce social anxiety and make you feel more confident.
Practicing deep breathing is a simple yet effective way to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and manage this type of mental health condition. When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallower, and our heart rate increases. This can lead to further anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Include deep breathing and relaxation techniques into your daily routine to slow the heart rate and bring oxygen into the body, which has a calming effect.
Talk to a therapist about the things that worry you and seek treatment for your mental health disorder. Discuss your anxiety symptoms with a health care provider to develop a more holistic approach to understanding and dealing with your social fears and challenging situations.
Conclusion: a message of hope for the LGBTQ+ folks struggling with social anxiety
Social anxiety can be especially difficult for LGBTQ+ people. In a world that is often not accepting of their identity, they may try to hide who they are and drown in feelings of isolation and loneliness. When you are struggling with social anxiety, it is important to remember that you deserve to live your life in a way that feels authentic to you. Therapy is always a good place to begin your journey toward mental health, balance, and happiness. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you notice symptoms of anxiety or any other mental health issues. You are not alone!