Social Anxiety Disorder Definition

This page will describe the definition of social anxiety disorder, and all the different manifestations of it. People often don't recognize when they have it. The best way to define social anxiety disorder is to look at the diagnostic criteria

Social anxiety is different for each person, and may manifest in different ways. Below is the diagnostic criteria.

1.The person has fear or anxiety in specific social settings in which they feel judged, noticed or observed. In adults, this can include dating, meeting someone, or speaking in class or at work in a meeting.

2.The person fears that they will display that anxiety and be judged or rejected.

3.The interaction provokes distress and interactions are avoided or endured painfully.

4.The anxiety is disproportionate to the situation and causes distress and impairment.

5.The anxiety isn’t due to drug use, a medication side effect, or a medical disorder or another mental health disorder.

6.If another medical condition is present, the anxiety is not due to that condition or is disproportionate.

7.The anxiety must be present for six months or longer.

In the past it was required that the person with anxiety recognize that it is out of proportion to the triggering event, but with the most recent diagnostic change, only the clinician needs to see this.

Social Anxiety Disorder Definition: Interactional and Performance

Many different experiences you may have never thought of can be categorized as types of social anxiety.

There are two main types of social anxiety that can help with the social anxiety disorder definition.  Interactional and performance anxiety.

Interactional  Social Anxiety

Interactional social anxiety is anxiety about situations that may require you to talk, listen, and react. Interactional experiences are those that are considered the  most socially demanding.  For example, starting a conversation at a party is a form of interaction which can have anxiety associated with it.

  • Dating Anxiety.  If you are single dating anxiety can be pretty impairing! Dating anxiety is fear and discomfort with possible romantic partners. What fuels most anxiety, this one being no exception, is avoidance. Unfortunately this creates a life of loneliness for people with dating anxiety. Some studies show that the internet has provided some relief for these people. 

  • Fear of Interacting with People in AuthorityThis is a fear of interacting with bosses, supervisors, teachers, police officers etc. How would this affect your ability to respond when taking directions from your boss ? Often people with this form of anxiety will tell me their boss or supervisor has challenged their behavior as defiant or asked them about their demeanor when in fact they are just anxious. I have heard similar stories from children who have this experience with teachers.
  • Fear of Ordering Food. Yes, this is real! These people will often go to great lengths to avoid ordering food from restaurants or fast food places. Imagine if you were with a group of people and you went to lunch. How would you order, what would you do to avoid having to order? This can lead to isolation due to the avoidance of all of the possible social situations where food ordering would be necessary.

  •  Fear of Asking Questions or Seeking Help.We are all familiar with the jokes about men who won’t ask for directions, but this can develop further into a real problem. If you are in the workplace and don’t understand your assignment, directions, or something that was communicated, this fear can cause you to avoid seeking the information you need!  Coaching and exposure (dealing with the feared experience) are often the treatments of choice for these issues. 

Watch a brief video about this here

Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety can be about anything that requires you to perform something in front of others in a rehearsed way.  It may not even require a response from you at all. It is usually something learned or studied and then demonstrated. Interestingly, most people are more anxious about the second of the types of social anxiety, performance anxiety.

Types of  Performance Anxiety

  • Public Speaking. Fear of Public speaking is actually ranked as number one of the types of social anxiety! This fear can prevent people from successfully advancing in school and work. Fear of public speaking is often a specific non generalized form of social anxiety disorder, meaning it does not necessarily co occur with other social phobias.

  • Paraurisis. This is a fear of not being able to urinate in public bathrooms or where others may hear you urinate. Although this may sound funny, it is not. People who have parauresis report they  often avoid drinking liquids, dating, social events, and sporting events, for fear that they will be trapped in a situation where they have to urinate in public. People with parauresis even report choosing a job based on this. For example, someone may choose a job closer to home so they can leave and go home to urinate. It is a very shameful and embarrassing condition. Research shows that most people suffering from this condition also have other anxieties and mental health conditions.
  • Test Anxiety. Test anxiety is a form of social anxiety that consists of anxious thoughts and feelings as well as physiological responses. Test anxiety can cause one to be unable to remember previously learned information and also can cause issues with comprehending what is being asked and formulating clear thoughts. Sometimes test anxiety can be treated without a therapist. The steps are outlined below.

                       1)    Become aware of the self talk statements you make ( the things you tell yourself).

                          2)    Focus on replacing those statements with more positive ones, self coach yourself.

                          3)   Practice deep breathing and other body                                        relaxation techniques throughout the time leading up to the test taking situation.    

  • Sports Performance Anxiety. Sports performance is an area that coaches and trainers often must have a lot of knowledge in.  Athletes may become anxious and overwhelmed and choke in a way that’s similar to what happens with a student who has test anxiety.Trainers and coaches will use visualization, breathing and relaxation techniques, self talk  and psycho education to assist athletes who are experiencing this. There are also therapists who specialize in sports psychology who may assist in this area. One recent study cited in psychology today actually demonstrated that in some cases of performance anxiety people who created the belief that their nervousness will improve their performance were able to decrease their anxiety and overcome the impact on their performance!
  • Writers Block and Stage Fright. Both of these terms may refer to a form of social anxiety. Writers who have writers block frequently have an array of symptoms consistent with anxiety. Thoughts and fears that they cannot come up with something to write, a feeling of panic and dread, and the experience of being unable to write because of their symptoms of anxiety. Stage fright is a similar concept.

Watch a video about performance anxiety below. 

Social Anxiety Disorder Definition: Generalized versus Non Generalized

Further divisions that help with the social anxiety disorder definition are non generalized and generalized social anxiety. 

People with non generalized social anxiety  may have one or two situations where they are anxious such as in public speaking, or test anxiety.  These people may only experience anxiety in these situations and may be able to go about their daily responsibilities without much impairment.

People with generalized social anxiety however, are considered more severe. They may experience social anxiety in many situations in a way that consistently adversely affects their quality of life.

·       For information on social anxiety click the links below.

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This page is about how self-compassion and mindfulness and skills such as forgiveness, kindness and compassion can help us with depression and anxiety.

Sources for Definition of Social Anxiety

Hiebert, B. (2000). Self-Directed Treatment for Test Anxiety: Sometimes a Little Is Enough. Guidance & Counseling, 15(4), 2. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Madu, C. (2010, Jan/Feb). Tell yourself nervousness will improve your performance and it will. Psychology today , pp. 12-14.

Vythilingum, B., Stein, D., & Soifer, S. (2002). Is “shy bladder syndrome” a subtype of social anxiety disorder? A survey of people with paruresis. Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269), 16(2), 84-87. doi:10.1002/da.10061.


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