What is social phobia?
Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work or school, or other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends.
While many people with social phobia realise that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to confront their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterwards.
Social phobia can be limited to one situation (such as talking to people, eating or drinking, or writing on a blackboard in front of others) or may be so broad (such as in generalised social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than their family.
Physical symptoms that often accompany social phobia include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea and difficulty talking. When these symptoms occur, people with social phobia feel as though all eyes are focused on them.
Women and men are equally likely to develop the disorder, which usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. There is some evidence that genetic factors are involved. Social phobia is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders or depression, and substance abuse may develop if people try to self-medicate their anxiety.
Social phobia can be successfully treated with certain kinds of psychotherapy or medications. Research has shown that CBT is effective as a frontline treatment for social phobia.