Social: adjective. relating to society or its organization
Anxiety: noun. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease
Disorder: noun. a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions; malady or dysfunction
Many people wonder if anxiety, specifically social anxiety, is a disorder or merely something every individual experiences. In my opinion, social anxiety could be considered as both a mental illness and your everyday nervousness, depending on the severity.
All my life, from toddler to fifteen-year-old girl, I struggled with shyness - or is the proper term social anxiety? At ten years of age, in fifth grade, our family therapist officially diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder.
I remember my first day of school, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the bus, only to take off the moment I spotted it. I remember avoiding people, including my peers and even distant family members. I remember crying, struggling to breathe, just at the thought of going to school and possibly having to answer a question in front of the entire class. I missed weeks of school, refusing to attend because I feared whatever was waiting for me. After years of shying away from what I was most scared of, I finally was able to put a name to my abnormal behavior. Social anxiety disorder.
Sixth grade was the worst. I missed more than one-third of the school year due to anxiety, and on the days I did show up for school I was forced to meet with the school psychiatrist. During one of our half-hour sessions the psychiatrist asked me a question I won't ever forget. Did you know everyone has anxiety? I thought she believed me to be stupid. Of course everyone has anxiety! Everyone just experience it at different levels and frequencies. I happened to be unlucky; my levels were strangely high and occurred more often than most. My anxiety affected my daily life to the point where I couldn't do things kids my age did because my worry prevented me from doing so. I grew up quick and multiple people told me I had an ancient soul. Though I was flattered, I couldn't take all the credit. My advanced apprehensive thoughts drove me to overthink nearly everything. Ten-year-old kids shouldn't waste their time worrying about every single possibility.
One of the words at the start of this one-sided debate is disorder, whose definition is: a disruption in normal physical or mental health or functions. My severe anxiety did not allow me to be a standard kit. I was constantly worrying, frequently fearing what might happen next, which did not allow me the ability to play much or cause trouble like everyone else. My worries truly were disrupting my mental health and functions. Sometimes my nervousness interfered with my usual physical functions and health as well. I'd get so worked up I felt ill, my panic attacks leaving me with no energy whatsoever.
Social anxiety can most definitely be called a disorder.
Can it be experienced but not count as a disorder? Of course. Plenty of people have days where they can barely manage a squeaky greeting to the person behind the cash register checking out their groceries only to return a week later and exchange salutations with great ease. Some people may even have a different disorder, such as depression, which could cause anxiety. It doesn't make the anxiety the disorder, however, it makes the depression the disorder, because without the depression there wouldn't be anxiety. The idea is to tackle the cause so the side-effects don't have any power.
Social anxiety is not always a disorder. It's easily a common feeling, something every single person is exposed to at multiple points throughout their lifetime.
Whether social anxiety is considered a disorder or a common emotion is determined on how frequent and critical it is. Point is, both sides of the social anxiety debate are correct.