What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia in other words, is characterised by disabling fears of one or more specific social situations.

For example, public speaking, urinating in a public bathroom, or eating or writing in public.

In these situations, the person feels that he or she is being watched and negatively judged by others. Many people with this phobia try to avoid these situations whenever they can.

by Elia Strange

city evening

Around 13 percent of people globally suffer from social phobia at some point in their lives.
This means that social phobia is very common, and only in the United States around 35 million people suffer from this disorder.

The causes of social phobia are mainly evolutionary. We all react to other people’s presence, only in some people this takes an extreme form. People, who are very shy, often are born with some predisposition. In other words, even at the age of 4 months old, some of these babies are more agitated, cry more often, and even more shy than other babies who grow up to be ‘socially ok’.

dog in outfit



"Too Shy"

Billy was the model boy at home. He did his homework, stayed out of trouble, obeyed his parents, and was generally so quiet and reserved he didn’t attract much attention.
However, when he got to junior high school, something his parents had noticed earlier became painfully evident. Billy had no friends.
He was unwilling to attend social or sporting activities connected with school, even though most of the other kids in his class went to these events.

When his parents decided to check with the guidance counsellor, they found that she had been about to call them. She reported that Billy did not socialise or speak up in class and was sick to his stomach all day if he knew he was going to be called on.
His teachers had difficulty getting anything more than a yes-or-no answer from him.

More troublesome was that he had been found hiding in a stall in the boy’s restroom during lunch, which he said he had been doing for several months instead of eating.

After Billy was referred to our clinic, we diagnosed a severe case of social phobia, and irrational and extreme fear of social situations.
Billy’s phobia took the form of extreme shyness. He was afraid of being embarrassed or humiliated in the presence of almost everyone except his parents.

(Taken from Durand, V.M. & Barlow, D.H. “Essentials of Abnormal Psychology”.)

How do they diagnose Social Phobia?

Psychologists look at several 'symptoms' or descriptions of your experiences before they can make a diagnosis.
The list below is exactly what they use for this purpose.

If you'll describe your 'symptoms' that are just like the ones below, then the appropriate treatment (psychological - e.g. psychotherapy, and biological - e.g. drugs) may be prescribed to you.

Criteria for diagnosis of Social Phobia:

A. Marked or persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny of others.

B. Exposure to feared social situations almost invariably provokes anxiety or panic.

C. Person recognises that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.

D. Feared social or performance situation avoided or endured with great distress or anxiety.

E. Symptoms interfere significantly with person’s normal routine, or occupational or social functioning.

(Taken from Butcher, J.N., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J.M. “Abnormal Psychology” (13th ed.)

Other Articles you might be interested in:

What is Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

Do I have OCD?

Do I have Anxiety Disorder?

Depression Test: Are you depressed?

Symptoms and Stages of Stress

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