For people with social anxiety, it can be frustrating to have to deal with the rest of the world not understanding what they’re going through—and casually misusing the phrase to refer to everyday experiences of discomfort or shyness. Thankfully, YouTube star Jessie Paege shared a spot-on tweet to help clarify what having social anxiety really means.
“Social anxiety is not ‘omggg I love Netflix and I hate everyone,'” Paege wrote earlier this week. “It’s longing to go to social situations that are easy for other people, wanting to use your voice, but feeling stifled, feeling trapped in your thoughts, and so much more.”
In fact, social anxiety (aka social phobia), is an intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It affects about 15 million American adults, the ADAA says, and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, after having a specific phobia.
Paege tells SELF that she decided to write her tweet to try to help educate people, especially those who throw the phrase “social anxiety” around without understanding it.
She grew up with severe social anxiety and went to several special education pre-schools as a result of her condition. “It was incredibly difficult and the topic of social anxiety is still very painful for me,” she says.
Paege says that she hopes her tweet clears up misconceptions about social anxiety disorder. “Mental illness terminology is thrown around too often,” she says. “I also hope this helps people respect those with social anxiety. Whether it’s a teacher that has a student that needs accommodations or a friends that’s bullying, social anxiety is serious and isn’t something people should throw around in an attempt to be ‘relatable’.”
The tweet exploded online, with many people weighing in with their own experiences with social anxiety and how, unfortunately, many people who don’t experience from the condition just don’t get it. Here are just a few things they want everyone else to know about social anxiety:
1. You can’t just turn it off or “get over it.”
Social anxiety is a legitimate mental health condition and medical diagnosis. Telling someone with social anxiety to “get over it” is like telling someone with diabetes that they can just will it away—it’s ridiculous and unhelpful.
2. You constantly obsess over what you could have done or said differently in social interactions.
People with social anxiety are often very self-conscious in front of others, and feel embarrassed and awkward, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says. They’re also very afraid that others will judge them, and may spend weeks worrying about social interactions.
3. It can bring on physical symptoms, too.
Many people with social anxiety can have a rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, and even full-blown panic attacks when they have to go into a social situation they’re worried about, the ADAA says. People with the disorder often know that their fear is unreasonable, but still feel powerless to do anything about it, the organization says.
4. Public speaking can be terrifying.
Sure, most people aren’t exactly stoked to get up in front of their colleagues and give a presentation, but it can be debilitating for people who struggle with social anxiety disorder. Some social anxiety sufferers don’t have anxiety in social situations but have it only when it comes to performances, like giving a speech, playing a sports game, dancing, or playing a musical instrument on stage, according to the NIMH.
5. Even an activity that seems simple, like making a phone call, can trigger anxiety.
Any kind of social interaction can make someone with social anxiety disorder feel anxious, the NIMH says. That includes everyday things like meeting new people, going on dates, doing job interviews, answering a question in class, talking to a cashier at a store, talking on the phone, or using a public bathroom.
6. But the level of anxiety someone experiences on a given day can vary widely.
As with many health conditions, social anxiety is different for everyone—and one person’s experience with it may change from day to day.
But it is possible to feel better. If you feel like your anxiety is interfering with you ability to live your life—including your social life—that’s a sign that it’s time to check in with a mental health professional.