Social phobia or social anxiety disorder is a common anxiety disorder that millions of Americans struggle with everyday. It is a fear of embarrassment or humiliation in situations where other people are scrutinizing your actions or statements.
The fear that social phobics experience is above and beyond the normal unease that people might feel before speaking in front of an audience, performing a play or going to a cocktail party filled with strangers. The fear and anxiety are so strong that they cause you to obsess over the event or avoid the situation altogether.
Your concern will be out of proportion to the situation, you will recognize it is excessive but will be unable to avoid thinking that you will say or do something that others will judge to be stupid, weak, anxious or just plain crazy. The detrimental impact that this phobia can have on the lives of sufferers is limitless.
The most common manifestation of social phobia is a problem with public speaking. This fear affects actors, lawyers, people who have to give speeches, presentations and performances in front of others and students who have to speak in front of the class.
Other common manifestations include:
– Fear of blushing in public
– Fear of choking on or spilling food while eating in public
– Fear of being watched at work
– Fear of using public bathrooms
– Fear or writing or signing documents in front of others
– Fear of crowds
– Fear of taking tests
Social phobia doesn´t have to be so specific though. In many cases, it will just be a generalized anxiety about any social or group interaction where you feel you are being watched or evaluated.
If your fear covers a broad range of situations such as starting conversations, chatting in small groups, speaking to authority figures, dating, going to parties and other social interactions then you have generalized social phobia.
Social anxiety and nervousness are present in most people and part of normal life. You would only be diagnosed as phobic if your avoidance tactics interfere with work, social activities or important relationships, or cause you considerable distress.
You can have panic attacks when you have social phobia although that is not a necessary component. The panic attacks are related to being embarrassed or humiliated not necessarily being trapped or confined as with agoraphobia. Social anxiety also crops up at an earlier age than agoraphobia.
For children, the condition is often diagnosed in late childhood or early adolescence and becomes a problem when children start facing peer pressure at school. Like other anxieties and fear, this phobia can be dealt with. Like most fears, you need to gradually face your fears head on and work to overcome the fear of embarrassment and the worry of rejection.
Particularly effective techniques in battling this condition are imagery desensitization and real-life exposure. In addition, improving your assertiveness and self-esteem will also help in confronting and managing your social fears.