Coastal Center for Anxiety Treatment

Name card of Dr. Eric goodman.

Is social anxiety an illness…really?

One of the joys and curses of modern technology is the ability to consume massive amounts of media content daily. I am one such consumer.

Each day my inbox is flooded with articles pertaining to my vocation as a clinical psychologist who specializes in all-things anxiety. Each day I am provided with a steady stream of messages that shout to the world that social anxiety is an illness that you can and should:

  • “Cure in just nine simple steps!”
  • “Overcome with the latest App!”
  • “Eradicate by using CBT!”

I am sorry to say that, no you can’t, no you won’t, and no it is not possible!

That’s not to say that these articles, books, and Youtube videos are of no value. Many of them contain information that can be quite useful and do help people. My concern is that by presenting social anxiety as a disease that needs eradication, people feel defeated when after all of the helpful tips are followed their social anxiety remains.

The reality is that social anxiety is a normal human experience. It can’t be cured because it is it is not a disease. Saying that you will cure social anxiety is like saying you will cure anger, sadness, or grief. Most of us humans persistently experience a range of emotions. Almost all of us will experience social anxiety to some degree in at least some situations—social anxiety is a lifelong companion.

So if the problem is not social anxiety, what is the problem?

Problems occur when you have a maladaptive relationship with your social anxiety—when you demonize it, fight it, avoid places where it might show up, and even try to drown it in alcohol. When you have a dysfunctional relationship with your normal human experience of social anxiety, you can build it up to a phobic level (just like a phobia of flying, heights, snakes, or my cooking).

You can alter your relationship with anxiety and bring the phobic level back to a reasonable level—maybe you’ll get more comfortable in certain situations. You can learn to cope and even thrive with social anxiety. You do not have to suffer intensely or miss out on reasonable social goals. You will never, however, be rid of your social anxiety completely…and neither will the rest of us.

So take the pressure off yourself that you have to be social anxiety-free and begin to venture forth towards your social goals, bringing your social anxiety companion along for the ride.

Eric Goodman, Ph.D.