Is It Anti-Social Or Social Anxiety?

There’s always that one person (or two) who, despite numerous invitations to workplace or social gatherings, never shows up. This can lead to whispers, assumptions, and even shunning. We’re here to say: maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to paint them with the anti-social brush.

Is that “anti-social” co-worker in fact experiencing social anxiety?

According to Beyond Blue, around 11% of Australians experience social anxiety in their lifetime. It may not be a big percentage number, but it does translate into a lot of people.

Often this is a crippling condition that comes on around childhood and adolescence. It’s more than just having nerves before a big speech or getting shy around new people—though those with social anxiety would likely experience both.

What to know about social anxiety:

  • It is more commonly experienced by women.

  • Signs include physical symptoms such as: excessive sweating, shaking, digestive disturbances, and difficulty speaking steadily.

  • It can be brought on by negative childhood experiences such as bullying.

  • Certain personality traits such as shyness or dependency can increase chances of developing it.

  • It may run in the family.

  • It often involves continuous worrying, overthinking and self-criticism.

The important thing to realise about social anxiety, is that though sufferers may want to participate in social events, they may not have the ability to do so.

This is the critical distinction to be made between social anxiety and a serious condition called anti-social personality disorder. Unlike social anxiety, this condition is often characterised by a complete disregard of other’s wellbeing and traits such as aggression, impulsivity and deceitfulness.

As you can see, there is a vast difference between these two “labels” which are often casually applied.

Now, if you aren’t an expert in mental health, don’t go diagnosing people left and right. Yet a basic knowledge of how social anxiety can manifest, may help you consider what someone may be dealing with.

What you can do if you think someone is suffering social anxiety. 

Don’t put them in situations you think they’ll struggle in. For example, don’t call them out in front of others or ask that they take the floor.

Intervene if you see them feeling uncomfortable. If they are becoming visibly nervous in a situation, distract the crowd! It’s such an easy way to show that you are looking out for them.

You don’t have to make it obvious that you know. Chances are, they may feel too self-conscious to want to talk about it. But by helping them out in small ways, it might help them feel they could reach out if they needed to.

Stand up for them. No need to get gossy and start telling everyone what you suspect is going on—in fact that might make it worse. But it’s ok to tell others: “You never know what someone is dealing with,” and “Let’s just talk about something else.”

The fact is, we can never be sure what someone is experiencing in their lives. It’s safer not to assume and label. Knowing the signs of common anxiety disorders can help you be considerate and empathise if you suspect someone around you is struggling.

Visit Beyond Blue for more free resources and support on anxiety.