Social anxiety: the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-conciousness, embarrasment, humilation and depression.

As a person who's diagnosed with social anxiety, I have found this mental illness goes mis- or even ununderstood quite a lot. When I would tell someone about my social anxiety they would just smile and vaguely respond to it, or not at all even, in a lot of cases. I do not blame them for doing so, in fact I think I would have done the exact same thing in their situation. Social anxiety isn't something we learn about in our daily education and it definitely isn't something people with this mental illness like to talk about. Because of these reasons social anxiety is often seen as a 'fake' illness. People often see people who struggle with this illness as if they're overreacting, it can't be that bad right?

Well this is your wake up call: it is. Lately more and more people, mostly teenagers, have admitted they suffer from social anxiety. Research shows that those people suffering have a significant lower quality of life, it negatively effects family life, social functioning, education, work and relationships and it even increases the risk of suicidality. So yes, this illness is very real.

When reading this, you might wonder why, if the consequences are really this big, social anxiety is still so mis- and ununderstood in our society. As a person living with this illness, I can tell you talking about this subject is not half as easy as it seems. You have to understand, people who suffer from social anxiety are terrified of being judged by others in a negative way. Talking about myself to clarify this a bit: I spend a lot of my time worrying what others might think of me. With every move I make and every word I say, even if that's to my closest friends, I am terrified what they will think of me. Will this sound lame? Do I look okay enough in this shirt? Personally, I hate standing out and even wearing a shirt with bright colors or a skirt makes me feel like I'm odd. Whenever I actually gather the courage to wear that pink shirt with that skirt, I spend my entire day doubting whether I made the right choice. But it goes beyond this. My anxiety isn't only about my clothes, it's about what I say, the way I laugh, how my voice sounds and even about what I feel and think as well. I am in a constant state of doubting - am I doing this right? Did that sound stupid? Even sending my closest friends a simple message asking if they want to hang out can be a huge struggle for me. Let alone talk about things as personal as this.

That's how we come back to the question why it's still mis- and ununderstood so much. People with social anxiety are usually too anxious to talk about something like this, too afraid of the judgement of others when they tell them they suffer from this illness. I have even been ashamed of it for quite a while myself, actually. That's why I decided to come out for it: social anxiety is a true, valid mental illness which I should not have to be ashamed of.

If you know someone suffering from social anxiety: be patient. They're trying, I promise you. Just taking the first step, asking them to hang out can be so helpful to sufferers. Telling them that, whatever they're doing, they're doing it right can already make their entire week. A little more understanding and support can already help them so so much.

And to those of you suffering from this illness: hang on. It gets better, I promise. You are doing great and I believe in you. You got this.

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