What are the Different Types of Social Anxiety Disorder?

What is the Difference Between Generalized and Specific Social Anxiety

nervous man giving speech
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Social anxiety is a common disorder affecting more than 15 million people in the United States. A sometimes debilitating condition, it can cause you to be anxious around other people and have a hard time speaking with others. It can make you very self-conscious and afraid of others judging you. In some cases, people feel physically sick with nausea and faintness when around others. 

Two Kinds of Social Anxiety Disorder: Generalized & Specific

There are two different types of social anxiety disorder: generalized and specific.

A therapist will determine which category describes you best. Those with generalized social anxiety have fears about most social and performance situations, including speaking to authority figures, going on dates, starting conversations or giving speeches. For people with generalized social anxiety, they may be uncomfortable around anyone but their closest family members. Generalized SAD is considered to be a more severe form of the disorder and is usually accompanied by greater impairment in day-to-day functioning.

Mental health professionals also use "specific social anxiety" as the other type of disorder. If you have specific social anxiety, your anxiety and fear are most likely linked to just a few social situations rather than most or all. For instance, you may have a fear of public speaking but be just fine mingling at a party. 

Either form of social anxiety can be extremely harmful.

It can limit you from enjoying life fully, meeting friends or even succeeding in your career. Social anxiety is persistent. You likely know that your thoughts are irrational, but that doesn't mean you can overcome it. You still feel the full extent of the anxiety and nervousness. While some people may tell you to "face your fears", many people with social anxiety push themselves to do what they fear every day without lessening the nervousness or improving in any way.


How Can Specific and Generalized Social Anxiety Be Treated?

Regardless if you have generalized or specific social anxiety, it's important to know that help is possible and you can be effectively treated. With both forms, cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that addresses current problems and reframes negative thinking, can be very helpful. You will learn strategies and practices to help you cope with different situations until your fears are lessened. After going through cognitive behavioral therapy, many people with anxiety say that it changed their lives and opened doors for them; they can do things they never thought they could, like travel or perform in front of others. 

In some cases, particularly for those with more severe generalized social anxiety, your doctor may recommend that you try medication. This can help calm your mind and suppress negative self-talk, allowing you to focus on your therapy and begin to make progress. 

Finding a Therapist for Social Anxiety

Look for a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Without a background in these conditions, your therapist may not understand how harmful it can be or may minimize what you are feeling. A healthcare provider who understands social anxiety and cognitive behavioral therapy will work with you to develop effective strategies to manage the disorder. 


"Social Anxiety". National Institute of Mental Health, 2015. 


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