One of the words I found hard to get used to when I moved to Israel was “angina.” People used it to describe a trivial illness when I thought it should mean a very serious illness. I felt that by using that word to describe their trivial illness they were making light of the serious illness or giving too much weight to their own illness.
I could have looked up the word, of course. Not online, because online didn’t exist then, but in a dictionary. Looking it up now, I see there are two meanings. One is the meaning I knew: severe chest pain arising from inadequate blood supply to the heart. The other meaning is: a sore throat. So I was right and so were they.
It is said – and, I think, probably true – that too many children these days are being diagnosed with ADHD and given drugs to counteract it. Catdownunder wrote about this the other day. Apart from stopping healthily active children from learning to cope with what they are, it seems to me that, in the eyes of the public, it lessens the seriousness of ADHD in children who have it badly and probably takes resources away from those who really need them.
Let’s turn to social anxiety and what Rachael wrote in a comment here a week or so ago:
I was at a party recently and when a girl (of about 20) was asked to get up and speak, she commented ‘this is terrible for my social anxiety’ and was pleased to explain when someone asked her about it… However, her explanation sounded more like she was mildly embarrassed by being asked to stand and talk in front of a crowd than real social anxiety. Of course I don’t know what’s happening inside her head and should not make any assumptions but it got me thinking and I have noticed that among some of the younger generation it does seem to have become a bit ‘fashionable’ to say they have social anxiety. I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
My first thought was that this is wrong. That if every other person claims to have social anxiety, this will detract from the attention that needs to be given to those who really have it. In other words, I was comparing it to the ADHD issue I mentioned above.
My second thought was that these social anxiety claimers are probably right. Most people have some form of anxiety in certain social situations. Not all social anxiety is chronic and disabling. When it is, it’s called social anxiety disorder.
So maybe it’s more like the angina definition. Maybe social anxiety means more than one thing. Maybe when I refer to what I mean by it, I should say social anxiety disorder. But that’s a bit long and its acronym makes me sound pathetic.
If I had the chance, would I try to stop people from using the term social anxiety to describe a mild fear of talking to an audience? I think I would. But I can’t, just as I can’t prevent readers of a book like The Mill River Recluse from getting a rather warped impression of social anxiety.