SOCIAL PHOBIA (Social Anxiety Disorder)
"In any social situation, I felt fear. I would be anxious before I even
left the house, and it would escalate as I got closer to a college class, a party,
or whatever. I would feel sick at my stomach- it almost felt like I had the flu.
My heart would pound, my palms would get sweaty, and I would get this feeling of
being removed from myself and from everybody else.
"When I would walk into a room full of people, I'd turn red and it would feel like
everybody's eyes were on me. I was embarrassed to stand off in a corner by myself,
but I couldn't think of anything to say to anybody. It was humiliating. I felt so
clumsy, I couldn't wait to get out.
"I couldn't go on dates, and for a while I couldn't even go to class. My sophomore
year of college I had to come home for a semester. I felt like such a failure."
Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, involves 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 being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Their fear may be
so severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary 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.
Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation- such as a fear of
speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating, drinking, or writing in
front of others-or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person
experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people. Social phobia
can be very debilitating- it may even keep people from going to work or school
on some days. Many people with this illness have a hard time making and keeping
Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and
include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking.
If you suffer from social phobia, you may be painfully embarrassed by these
symptoms and feel as though all eyes are focused on you. You may be afraid of
being with people other than your family.
People with social phobia are aware that their feelings are irrational. Even
if they manage to confront what they fear, they usually feel very anxious
beforehand and are intensely uncomfortable throughout. Afterward, the
unpleasant feelings may linger, as they worry about how they may have been judged
or what others may have thought or observed about them.
How Common Is Social Phobia?
- About 3.7% of the U.S. population ages 18 to 54 - approximately 5.3 million
Americans - has social phobia in any given year.
- Social phobia occurs in women twice as often as in men, although a higher
proportion of men seeks help for this disorder.
- The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence and rarely
develops after age 25.
What other illnesses co-occur with Social Phobia?
Social phobia can cause lowered self-esteem and depression. To try to reduce
their anxiety and alleviate depression, people with social phobia may use alcohol
or other drugs, which can lead to addiction. Some people with social phobia may also
have other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive
Social phobia can severely disrupt normal life, interfering with school, work, or
social relationships. The dread of a feared event can begin weeks in advance and be
This information has been excerpted from material developed by the National Institute for Mental Health.