Social phobia is arguably a phobia that has the greatest impact on one’s life, effecting every element of their day-to-day living.
As human beings are ‘social animals’, human contact is everywhere we go. It is encouraged, promoted as being ‘great’ for our mental health. So, for someone who suffers from a social phobia, that being a fear of being in social situations, every day is unimaginably challenging.
A question that has been on my mind a lot recently is; why, as naturally born ‘social animals’, do some humans experience social anxiety?
To answer that question, we first must consider how social anxiety came to be recognised as a mental illness in the first instance.
Dating back to the early 20th century, ‘social phobia’ was a term used by psychiatrists to describe patients they saw who were extremely shy. It wasn’t until 1968 that social phobia was to be understood and accurately described as being a ‘specific phobia of social situations or excessive fear of being observed or scrutinized by others.’ Todays definition of social anxiety disorder/social phobia is pretty much the same, with the NHS describing the condition as being a ‘long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations.’
So, we know that social anxiety/social phobia is not a new phenomenon as it was first identified in the 1900s, but why did it come to exist at all? Surely if we are supposed to be ‘social animals’, as evolution dictates that we are, social anxiety should not even exist, let alone be effecting such large numbers of us.
As is the case with all mental illnesses, there is not just one identifiable cause of social anxiety, instead, there are several risk factors that make someone more likely to develop the condition.
As the nature vs nurture debate highlights, there are people who think that social anxiety is inherited (nature), and other people who think that it develops as a result of ones life experiences (nurture.) In my opinion, it is a combination of the two- both nature and nurture have an influence. Take me, for example. I have social anxiety, and I believe that it has always been there, to some extent. I have always been a relatively shy person, but the challenges I have faced in my life, from my difficult childhood to my diagnosis of Anorexia, has undoubtedly contributed to my onset of social anxiety. It can therefore be concluded that there is most definitely not one singular cause of anxiety, at least, not in my case.
Having been able to identify the origins of social anxiety and recognise some of the causes, I can now understand why, despite us being ‘social animals’, some of us just aren’t so great at socialising. It is not because there is anything ‘wrong’ with us, but that, in the same way that some of us experience depression when society convinces us that ‘we have nothing to feel sad about’, some of us feel anxious when there is seemingly ‘no real reason’ for us to feel that way.
The fact is, mental health is so complex, and it certainly needs greater research into, so that more people can understand, and sympathise, with those who struggle with it.
There is nothing wrong with you.
You are not in need of fixing.
You are perfect just the way you are, anxiety or no anxiety.