Social anxiety or social phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by severe and persistent anxiety when in social situations, be it when interacting with others, or even only being observed.
People suffering from this phobia fear of being amongst (unfamiliar) people, because they will feel under scrutiny and anxious of behaving in a way that might humiliate or embarrass them.
People with social phobia are aware their fears are irrational and their anxiety over exaggerated, but apprehension will make them do whatever it takes to evade facing the feared situation.
This greatly interferes with normal life activities of people suffering from social phobia. They will start avoiding all sorts of social situations – and when that proves inevitable, they will be extremely worried – sometimes for weeks in advance. This is called “anticipatory anxiety”.
When the dreaded event is over, they will continue worrying how they’ve appeared to others. Did they found them anxious, or strange, or…?
This only increases the level of anticipatory anxiety they will feel the next time, and the vicious circle of social phobia continues…
It is natural to feel some degree of anxiety and self-consciences in certain social situations, like speaking in public or attending a job interview.
What’s different with social phobics is that their fear is continually present and their anxiety out of proportions to the actual situation.
This disorder is not just shyness or nervousness.
Social anxiety is a medical condition that can lead to a number of emotional and physical symptoms.
People who suffer from social anxiety find everyday tasks, like going grocery shopping or answering the phone, overwhelmingly stressful or even downright impossible to handle. That can cost them not only their social life, but even a job, and can leave them on the margins of society.
Because some level of social fear is perfectly normal and expected in some situations, social anxiety disorder is often left undiagnosed and untreated. It is estimated that about 3 – 13 % of population suffers from social anxiety in some form or way.
According to Social Anxiety Institute, social phobia is the largest anxiety disorder, and the third largest mental health care problem in the world today.
It is estimated that about one quarter of all people with social anxiety disorder use alcohol to self-medicate in order to appear more social.
Other comorbid disorders commonly occurring with social phobia are agoraphobia and major depression.
Social phobia affects men and women equally.
It usually appears before the age of 25.
Studies suggest that there’s no one single cause of social anxiety disorder, but rather an unfortunate combination of different biological and psychological factors. An imbalance of brain chemicals – serotonin neurotransmitters, some scientists noted, may be linked with this disorder.
Social phobia, however, can be “cured”!
Social anxiety treatment usually includes medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.
This can be disabling if left untreated. If you suspect that you, or someone you know, may have symptoms of social phobia, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified medical professional!