Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Definition

Social anxiety disorder is the fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people.

Overview and Facts

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Unlike shyness or everyday nervousness, social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which individuals experience extreme self-consciousness and irrational fears of being scrutinized, judged, or humiliated by others in social or performance situations.

Social anxiety disorder can have a negative impact on an individual’s professional and personal life.

What are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
  • Physical symptoms include blushing, sweating, shaking or trembling, racing heartbeat, feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Psychological symptoms include intense worry prior to a social situation, avoiding social situations, missing school or work due to anxiety, needing alcohol or other drugs to face a social situation, worry that others will notice your discomfort.

Social anxiety can be triggered by many social situations such as going shopping, talking on the phone, going out to eat, asking someone for directions, attending a job interview, or using a public restroom.

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

The exact cause is not known. Factors that may play a role in developing social anxiety disorder include genetics (heredity), chemical imbalances in the brain, abnormalities in certain structures in the brain (the amygdala, for example), and life experiences (for example, living with a parent who has social anxiety, or being bullied or sexually abused).

How is Social Anxiety Disorder Treated?

It’s often treated with one or both of the following:

  • Counseling--for example, various types of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to help people gradually face and reduce their fears (exposure therapy), strengthen social skills (for example, through role play, rehearsal, etc.), manage/restructure their thought processes, learn healthy ways to manage stress (using deep breathing, for example).
  • Medications--certain medications can be prescribed to help with social anxiety disorder including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta blockers (drugs that block the effects of adrenaline).