According to psychology expert Dr. Fallon Goodman, social anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world, yet its impact on people’s lives is mostly unknown. “At its root, social anxiety is a fear of rejection,” she explains. “Our fear of rejection stems from a sense of being inferior. We are less than we want to be, think we should be, or what society expects of us.”
In her TEDx lecture, ‘Social Anxiety in the Modern World,’ Goodman debunks some common misconceptions about the disorder and offers three simple solutions.
People with social anxiety are sometimes misled into believing that they are happy alone. People with social anxiety, according to Goodman’s research, crave strong, intimate personal relationships just as much as anyone else, and are perfectly capable of enjoying social circumstances.
Another misconception is that those who suffer from social anxiety avoid being in the spotlight. Goodman cites actors, models, and athletes who have all pursued careers in very public fields and struggle with social anxiety, including tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, who has spoken about the difference between how she feels “performing” on the court versus how she feels “performing” in other areas of her life.
Finally, the notion that anxiety is transient and harmless is simply false. “Many people deal with social anxiety for years, if not decades, without care,” adds Goodman. “And social anxiety has a profound impact on a person’s life.”
What are some strategies for dealing with social anxiety?
Determine the problem early on.
Goodman points out that persons who suffer from social anxiety are more likely to acquire other mental health issues such as depression and alcoholism. Early detection and intervention can help prevent this, and Goodman believes that this can be done rather easily in high schools and colleges.
“Asking just a few simple questions can reliably and accurately indicate social anxiety,” she says. “Is rejection one of your most terrifying fears? Is your fear preventing you from accomplishing your goals? … Asking these questions costs nothing and takes 30 seconds.”
Utilize your platform.
“One of the advantages of living in such a linked society is that a single person can wield a tremendous amount of influence,” Goodman adds. “Regular, honest, and open discussions about mental illness serve to eliminate stigma, dispel harmful stereotypes, and get individuals the care they need.”
Encourage social bravery.
In the end, Goodman feels that overcoming social anxiety isn’t about avoiding or eliminating rejection. “Being socially bold involves chasing experiences while accepting the possibility of rejection,” she explains. “Being socially courageous entails seeking experiences that are essential to you and understanding that your worth as a human being is unaffected by the success of those endeavors.”