Social phobia, also known as Social Anxiety Disorder, is fear or anxiety about certain social or performance situations.
These situations are often avoided or endured with much distress.
Humans are social animals, and their ability to relate comfortably in social situations affects many important aspects of their lives, including:
- Dating; and
Social phobia is a type of anxiety disorder.
Although some anxiety in social situations is normal, individuals with social phobia have so much anxiety that they either avoid social situations or endure them with distress.
About 13% of individuals have social phobia sometime in their life.
The disorder affects about 9% of women and 7% of men during any 12-month period.
Some adults with social phobia were shy as children, while others did not develop significant anxiety symptoms until after puberty.
Individuals with social phobia are concerned that their performance or actions will seem inappropriate.
Often, they worry that their anxiety will be obvious – that they will sweat, blush, vomit, or tremble or that their voice will quaver. They also worry that they will lose their train of thought or that they will not be able to find the words to express themselves.
Some social phobias are tied to specific performance situations, producing anxiety only when the individual must perform a particular activity in public.
The same activity performed alone produces no anxiety.
Situations that commonly trigger anxiety among individuals with social phobia include the following:
- Public speaking;
- Performing publicly, such as reading in church or playing a musical instrument;
- Eating with others;
- Meeting new people;
- Having a conversation;
- Signing a document before witnesses; and/or
- Using a public bathroom.
A more general type of social phobia is characterised by anxiety in many social situations.
In both types of social phobia, individuals fear that if they fail to meet other’s expectations or are scrutinised in social interactions, they will feel embarrassed, humiliated, or rejected, or will offend others.
Individuals may or may not recognise that their fears are irrational and excessive.