Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an intense fear of becoming extremely anxious and possibly humiliated in social situations -- specifically of embarrassing yourself in front of other people.
A person who suffers from social anxiety tends to think that other people are far better at public speaking, or hanging out in a social sociation and mingling with others at a party. The person tends to focus on every little small mistake they do in a social situation, and exaggerate them out of proportion.
Simply blushing may seem painfully embarrassing to a person with a social phobia, and they may feel as though all eyes are focused on them.
Some people with social anxiety have specific fears, such as public speaking or needing to talk to their boss about a concern at work. Other times, the fears may be more generalized -- such as a fear of any social situation whatsoever, especially those involving strangers.
Some people confuse shyness with social anxiety.
In some rare instances, social anxiety may involve a fear of using a public restroom, eating out, or talking on the phone when others are present.
Social anxiety disorder is not shyness, although sometimes people mistake the two. While shy people may be uneasy around others, they generally don't experience the same kinds of extreme anxiety someone with a social phobia does. Additionally, shy people generally do not engage in the extreme avoidance of social situations that a person with social anxiety does.
People with social anxiety may not be shy at all. They can be completely at ease with people most of the time, but particular situations, such as walking down an aisle in public or making a speech, can give them intense anxiety.
Social phobia disrupts normal life, interfering with career or social relationships. For example, a worker can turn down a job promotion because he can't give public presentations. The dread of a social event can begin weeks in advance, and symptoms can be quite debilitating.
Most people with social phobia are well aware that their feelings are extreme and irrational. Still, they experience a great deal of dread before facing the feared situation, and they may go out of their way to avoid it. Even if they manage to confront what they fear, they usually feel very anxious beforehand and are intensely uncomfortable throughout. Afterwards, 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.
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of all of the following symptoms:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 95-3879 (1995)
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Oct 2011
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