What is social phobia?
Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is an irrational fear of being judged by others during social situations. This includes, work, parties, family gatherings, etc. Most people feel nervous in certain social situations, such as at a job interview or when giving a speech. Most of us worry about what we’re going to say, do, or wear during events like these. These situations often become easier with some experience. However, for people who have social phobia these situations can be frightening and unbearable.
There are different levels of social phobia. For instance, some people may only have symptoms in one specific situation, such as performing on stage or speaking to a crowd. Others may have it any time they are out in public or around people.
Symptoms of social phobia
People who have social phobia can experience internal and external symptoms.
Internal (emotional) symptoms include:
- Fear of being judged, embarrassed, or rejected.
- Feeling that everyone is watching them.
- Belief that anxiety is a sign of weakness.
- Belief that they are stupid, and other people are smarter and more confident than them.
External (physical) symptoms include:
- Withdrawal or avoidance.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Trouble talking or making eye contact.
- Increased heart rate.
People who have social phobia often realize that their fears are not rational or warranted. However, they may still dread social situations. They may even go out of their way to avoid events. If they do go to an event, they usually feel nervous before the event and uncomfortable during it. Afterward, the unpleasant symptoms and feelings may linger as they worry about what people thought of them.
What causes social phobia?
Social phobia is about twice as common in women as it is in men. Most people begin to notice it as children or teens. The condition can be genetic and run in families. Other potential factors include hormones and environment. For example, race, culture, economic status, and neglect can increase a person’s risk. Social phobia also can be related to other conditions, including depression, other anxiety disorders, or addiction.
How is social phobia diagnosed?
Talk to your family doctor if you have symptoms of social phobia. They will want to know about your symptoms, health history, and family history. In order to diagnose the condition, the doctor will look for:
- Frequency of symptoms.
- Presence of ongoing symptoms of 6 months or more.
- Side effects of symptoms. For instance, do your symptoms affect your daily work, school, or social life?
- Certain environments when the phobia occurs.
Your doctor may reference the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). They may refer you to a specialist, such as a psychologist.
Can social phobia be prevented or avoided?
There is little you can do to prevent social phobia. You can get treatment to help manage, reduce, or relieve symptoms. You can learn to adjust in social situations you must participate in, such as work. Also, you can learn to adapt, such as attending a party for a shorter time.
Social phobia treatment
Social phobia is an ongoing disorder that should be treated with medical care. It is real and does not usually go away on its own. Your family doctor can help you find ways to manage your symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people think about social situations in a different way. The goal of therapy is to remove the thoughts and actions that are driving anxiety. CBT teaches you how to address fear, cope with stress, and improve social skills. Your doctor may suggest group or family therapy in addition to CBT.
Social skills training can teach a person strategies for handling certain types of social situations.
Prescription medicines are another type of treatment. Antidepressants and benzodiazepines are most common. Beta-blockers may help people who have a certain form of social phobia called “performance anxiety.” You can take them before a performance to help ease anxiety. Medicines may take a while to begin working. Do not stop taking anxiety medicine without talking to your doctor first.
Living with social phobia
Social phobia can make it hard to go to work, school, or take part in daily activities. It can affect your ability to make and keep friends. It is not a condition that you should have to deal with alone. Talk to loved ones and your doctor to begin treatment. It is common to choose a combination of therapy and medicine. Your doctor should monitor your treatment and progress.
People who have social anxiety may experiment with and become dependent on the use of alcohol or illegal drugs to manage a situation. This puts them at higher risk of substance abuse.
Diet and exercise also is important in managing the symptoms of social anxiety. This includes regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine and over-the-counter cold medicines.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How do I know if I have social phobia?
- What is the likely cause of my condition?
- Is there a treatment that can help me?
- How long will I have to take medicine or be in therapy?
- Is there anything I can do on my own to help manage my symptoms?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.