You’re walking home from the subway station when an attractive stranger of the opposite or preferred sex bumps into you. Parcels drop, and as you both stoop down to retrieve them, the person is pleasant and apologizes profusely. You look at him or her and instead of a quick and pleasant retort, your hands sweat, your mind goes blank, your heart begins thumping, and, egad, you feel the warm blush of embarrassment flowing up your neck and face as you stutter a halting “It’s okay” and stride off.
Are you just shy and perhaps a bit inexperienced in the social graces, or is it a sign of anxiety disorder?
A sign of anxiety for shyness includes feelings of awkwardness and insecurity in unfamiliar circumstances while being with other people — talking, asking favors, etc. The Catch 22 is that shyness often perpetuates itself because the unfamiliar situation or circumstance remains unfamiliar and therefore remains avoided. So it takes concentrated effort of will to overcome the insecurity, or sometimes a young person grows out of it as they mature and gain more experience interacting with life.
On the other hand, a sign of anxiety for SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER goes beyond feelings of awkwardness and insecurity in that the person with this disorder is functionally debilitated. For example, they stay away from activities such as dating, parties, small group interactions, talking to strangers, enjoying restaurants, etc. And just simply exercising concentrated effort and mental will power just doesn’t help; in fact, frustratingly, that mental thought process alone is often a precursor of a sign of anxiety — or may itself bring on a sign of anxiety.
A sign of anxiety or panic attack occurs within a wide spectrum of symptoms, ranging from a simple (albeit embarrassing) blush to egregious chest pains. However, an egregious sign of anxiety or panic is not an indication of physical or serious illness, even though the sign of anxiety or panic can be so intense it feels like a heart attack or as if you’re being pushed over the edge mentally. The symptoms of a panic attack, albeit terrifying, do not cause physical harm — many medical studies back this up. In fact, many a sign of anxiety episodes are not too different from a good aerobic exercise workout, and the intense “afterglow” physiology of a high-energy workout certainly are not a sign of anxiety.
A sign of anxiety for a person experiencing SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER includes blushing, sweating, trembling, mind going “blank,” stomachache, stammering, fast heartbeat – and occurs often when interacting with authority, public speaking, or when drawing attention to yourself in some fashion. Sufferers often become very nervous and self-conscience around other people, feeling watched and judged, as well as afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Oddly, a person may feel the fear during certain social situations and not others; for example, an actor or singer is fine onstage and experiences no sign of anxiety, but offstage is afraid of social encounters in everyday life. This disorder affects over 16 million Americans. It can happen to anyone, but often a sign of anxiety starts in the mid-teen years.
A sign of anxiety for a person experiencing PANIC DISORDER is characterized by repeated and unexpected episodes of intense fear and/or panic, accompanied by physical symptoms that may include: chest pain/discomfort, heart palpitations, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, sweating, feet/hand numbness and tingling, nausea or abdominal distress, shaking or trembling. The psychological symptoms may include intense fear of impending doom, fear of loss of mind control, difficulty concentrating, a dissociative state, or an urge to escape immediately. In many cases, this disorder is first diagnosed by a physician because the sufferer seeks treatment in an emergency room for what appears to be a heart attack or stroke.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that a sign of anxiety for a person experiencing PANIC DISORDER may also be symptomatic of electrolyte disturbances and systemic infections, as well as a variety of medical conditions such as: asthma, epilepsy, migraine, endocrine disorders like diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, menopause, and hyperthyroidism. A sign of anxiety for a person experiencing panic disorder may be induced by intoxication or withdrawal from alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamine, or sedatives. This disorder affects over 4 million Americans and sometimes runs in families. Additionally, in about 20% of panic disorder cases, alcohol and drug abuse complicate the disorder; and depression is involved in about 70% of cases.
Last, but far from least, the final two anxiety disorders in a nutshell are Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS). A sign of anxiety for OCD includes being overwhelmed by uncontrollable and disturbing obsessive thoughts and then doing things compulsively over and over again in an attempt to rid oneself of those thoughts. A sign of anxiety for PTSS includes nightmares, feeling jumpy and tense, and the repeated reliving of a past traumatic event. Professional therapy for these types of disorders is recommended.
In conclusion, if with determined will power and practice, you succeed in becoming relaxed and competent in formerly unfamiliar and awkward social situations with nary a sign of anxiety, no worries. Perhaps you are, or were shy. On the other hand, if you continue to experience a sign of anxiety regardless of your clarity of choice and strength of will power, you may have an anxiety disorder.