Sociophobia is a fear of social situations. It is also known as social phobia or social anxiety disorder. While many people experience fears of certain types of situations, people with sociophobia actually experience impaired function as a result of their phobia. For example, someone may not be able to go out in public, may experience extreme physical reactions to social situations, or may make adjustments to her or his social life to avoid traumatic situations.
Fear of social situations, to some degree, is normal. Many people naturally fear ridicule or embarrassment and they may feel uncomfortable in new situations, or in situations which have been traumatic in the past. Children, especially, experience age-appropriate social fears as they learn how to navigate the world. People also tend to fear things like public speaking and other situations which can feel very exposing. For someone with social phobia, however, the response to such situations can be extreme. On the low level, things like blushing may occur, while the high level of social anxiety includes trembling, vomiting, headaches, shaking, difficulty walking, confusion, and terror.
To be considered social phobia, rather than a more natural response to social situations, a patient must experience quality of life impairments as a result of the fear. For example, a lawyer who avoids going to court whenever possible is experiencing a quality of life impairment as well as an impairment in professional function. Likewise, the sociophobia must have been occurring for six months or more. Avoidance of social situations is common, as is an awareness that the response to social situations is extreme, but an inability to modulate the response prevents the patient from staying calm in social settings.
There are treatments available for sociophobia. For some patients, simply going to psychotherapy can help. A therapist can work with the patient to uncover the causes of the phobia, and can explore the issue with the patient to help the patient process the fears and overcome them. Therapists can also provide patients with tools which can be used to manage sociophobia so that the patient can enjoy activities such as going on outings.
In other cases, more aggressive treatment may be needed. Some patients can experience panic attacks and severe impairments, and they may benefit from medications which will blunt the fear response to social situations. Techniques like desensitization therapy can also be used to make the patient feel more comfortable.