What’s the difference between social anxiety and panic disorder

People often confuse two of the most prevalent anxiety disorders: social anxiety and panic disorder.

While it’s not uncommon to have both at the same time, they are separate disorders, and often, one presents more prominently than the other. Even more confusing is that people with either are commonly misdiagnosed with depression, likely because they feel depressed. However, such depression is usually caused by the anxiety and thus would more accurately be called dysthymia; when the anxiety is gone, so is the depression.

Despite their commonalities and co-occurrence, they have distinct qualities.

Social anxiety

Social anxiety is often triggered by social situations, particularly those that place the person at the centre of attention. Interacting with unfamiliar people, giving a presentation, or receiving public recognition can be terrifying experiences for such people.

Those who deal with social anxiety often have jobs beneath their full capabilities, deal with relationship difficulties, and may even struggle with substance abuse.

Panic disorder

When someone panics, it feels like they’re having a heart attack, losing control, or going crazy. They may describe their experience as literally suffocating. Panicking may also be perceived has headaches, muscle spasms, or heart palpitations.

So, how do they differ?

Unlike social anxiety, which presents itself mentally, panic disorder usually presents physically, giving people the impression that they have something physically wrong with them. If doctors find nothing physically wrong with them, it can amplify the anxiety these people feel.

People with panic disorder have less of a problem interacting in social situations, and may even thrive on talking and being with others. Those with social anxiety want to be with others, but the anxiety of fulfilling that want further perpetuates their loneliness.

For more information on the difference between social anxiety and panic disorder, visit the Social Anxiety Institute website.

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