What is Social Phobia?

Sarah Snypes

A type of anxiety disorder, social phobia or social anxiety is a condition that is characterized by extreme self-consciousness and excessive shyness in daily social situations. Someone affected by this intense anxiety fears the judgment of others, and the perception of his actions in everyday circumstances. In the United States, approximately 5.3 million individuals aged 18-54 suffers from social phobia each year.

People may experience a social phobia about an upcoming gathering.
People may experience a social phobia about an upcoming gathering.

Similar to other phobias, social anxiety is a reaction to a situation that is not actually threatening or dangerous, although the mind and body act as if there is true danger present. Individuals experiencing the anxiety feel the physical sensations of fear, including rapid breathing and heart rate. This is caused by the body’s fight-flight mechanism, the response that prepares the body to either defend itself or flee. Episodes of phobia are also often accompanied by other physical symptoms, including profuse sweating, blushing, and trembling. Many times, victims will have an intense desire to escape from the distressing situation.

Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.
Extreme shyness can pose an obstacle to developing friendships and other relationships.

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Social phobia may be limited to only one type of social situation. The anxiety sufferer can experience symptoms in an informal setting, such as eating or drinking in front of others, or a more formal situation, like public speaking. Those with profound social phobia will exhibit symptoms just being in the presence of others. This disorder can severely alter a person’s existence, and can cause him to miss out on many of the simple pleasures of life.

People with social phobias may spend their time at home watching TV instead of going out.
People with social phobias may spend their time at home watching TV instead of going out.

There are several treatment options currently available for social phobia. New studies find that cognitive-behavior therapy is successful in three out of four cases of this disorder. Based on the perception that particular thought patterns can trigger certain mental health issues, the purpose of cognitive therapy is to change the patient's way of thinking to avoid these notions. This form of therapy is generally practiced in sessions of 50 minutes each over a span of several weeks.

Social phobia can cause severe anxiety when dealing with crowds.
Social phobia can cause severe anxiety when dealing with crowds.

Antidepressant medications are also a common form of social anxiety treatment. Antidepressants can reduce the symptoms of social phobia by intervening with brain chemicals called serotonin, which may be causing anxiety. There are numerous types of antidepressants, each with both positive and negative aspects. The most common and successful form are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).

People suffering from social phobia may be extremely terrified of public speaking.
People suffering from social phobia may be extremely terrified of public speaking.

Social phobia generally begins in the teenage years, and rarely develops after the age of 25. While the condition occurs in females twice as often as males, a greater percentage of men will seek help for it. Unless treated, social anxiety can be a lifelong disorder.

People with social phobias may profit from socializing with a small group of friends in a controlled setting.
People with social phobias may profit from socializing with a small group of friends in a controlled setting.
Antidepressants can reduce the symptoms of social phobia by intervening with brain chemicals called serotonin.
Antidepressants can reduce the symptoms of social phobia by intervening with brain chemicals called serotonin.

Discussion Comments

anon56192

i was wondering my daughter said when she is a gathering or she signing papers with strangers she got nervous. her hand trembles and she has a fast heart rate. would that be social phobia? it does not happen all the time.

pixiedust

I wonder if there can be subtle versions of this disorder. I don't tremble, sweat or have fight or flight feelings. But I am not motivated to get out and do things. When I do, I usually have a fine time without anxiety, but I feel more comfortable at home than "out." Couldn't this be social phobia at work.

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