Social phobia, also called Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work, school, or other activities. While many people with social phobia recognize that their fear of being around people may be excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. They often worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation. In addition, they often experience low self-esteem and depression.
Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation -- such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others -- or, in its most severe form, a person experiences symptoms whenever they are around other people. If left untreated, social phobia can have severe consequences. For example, it may keep people from going to work or school on some days. Many with this illness are afraid of being with people other than family members. As a result, they may have a hard time making and keeping friends.
Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, and other symptoms of anxiety, including difficulty talking and nausea or other stomach discomfort. These visible symptoms heighten the fear of disapproval, and the symptoms themselves can become an additional focus of fear. Fear of symptoms can create a vicious cycle: as people with social phobia worry about experiencing the symptoms, the greater their chances of developing the symptoms.
Social phobia often runs in families and may be accompanied by depression or other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people with social phobia self medicate themselves with alcohol or other drugs, which can lead to addiction.
Prevalence of Social Phobia
About 3.7% of the U.S. population -- approximately 5.3 million Americans -- is affected by social phobia. Social phobia occurs in women twice as often as in men, although a higher proportion of men seek help for this disorder. The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence and rarely develops after age 25.