CENTRAL COAST, Calif. – According to mental health experts along the Central Coast, social anxiety is a condition that can have a profound impact on a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being.
Alexandra Robinson from California Counseling Clinic in Santa Barbara said that while a little bit of social anxiety can be helpful, it can still become problematic. "We just don't want it to be a runaway train. Interfering with your own ability to engage socially," said Robinson.
Local experts define social anxiety disorder as a fear of social situations where a person worries they could be embarrassed.
Allison Sommmers, Youth Services Behavioral Health Program Supervisor said, "Public speaking is one kind of subset of social anxiety disorder. It might be just meeting out with people in public, in social settings, and the fear can be something that can last for weeks before the anticipated social event."
Allan Hancock College student, Tamia Salinas, said she knows firsthand how much social anxiety can impact life. She joined a leadership group called ASBG (Associated Student Body Government) last semester to meet people and improve her public speaking. When speaking in front of a group of 30 people, Salinas said, “I feel like, stuttering or my heart accelerating or palms sweaty.”
Although this chronic mental health condition may not constantly be at the center of everyday health discussions, they are more common than what people might think. According to the National Institute of Health, 8% of the population is believed to have social anxiety.
Also according to the National Institute of Health, there’s been a 25% increase in social anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"So COVID and the impact that it had with people being kept in and away from others made social anxiety rise. Discussions on social anxiety rise. People that live with social anxiety, I think it triggered those symptoms and made them a lot worse for many," said Suzanne Grimmesey from Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness.
Experts said environmental factors play a role, as well as socioeconomic status. "Women are more at risk for developing this disorder. In the research that I did, women represent about three-fourths of the overall population affected by this disorder," said Sommers.
Robinson said social anxiety can lead to isolation, low self-esteem, and depression if left untreated. "I would say avoid avoidance, and seek therapy, even though it is such a miserable and debilitating experience to experience the symptoms of social anxiety," said Robinson.
Salinas found help within a leadership group at Hancock College. Almost a year into joining the group, Salinas said that not only has her public speaking improved, but being around people is not as scary anymore.
"I feel like it's very important to have support because now you're not on your own," said Salinas.
Some people live with social anxiety for up to 12 years, which professionals said is unnecessary. They encourage those who feel like they have social anxiety to get support and treatment.
Grimmesey said, "Nobody should go through life not being able to feel joy and do the things they want to do without the feelings of anxiousness and fear."