Social Anxiety (Social Phobia)

Social anxiety is when a person experiences nervousness or distress in social situations due to fear of being criticized or scrutinized by others. People with social anxiety are often concerned that others perceive them as weird, unintelligent, or awkward. Examples of social interactions that may lead to anxiety include eating or drinking in front of others, going out on a date, performing in front of others, or going to a party. One may also worry that their fears may manifest in physical symptoms that may be very noticeable to others, leading to greater concerns for scrutiny and judgment. These symptoms may include shaky hands, excessive sweating, blushing, hot flashes, shaky voice, feelings of unreality, or breathlessness.

Individuals with social anxiety frequently rely on "safety behaviors" or avoidance behaviors as coping mechanisms to alleviate their anxiety. These behaviors may include:

  1. Turning down an invitation.
  2. Taking multiple bathroom breaks at a party to avoid exposure.
  3. Avoiding eye contact.
  4. Never participate in classroom discussions or raise your hand to ask a question.
  5. Drinking prior to going out to a party or date.
  6. Speaking quickly during a conversation.
  7. Arriving late to events or meetings and leaving early to avoid small talk.
  8. Offering to help at a party to avoid socializing with others.
  9. Avoiding eating or drinking in front of others.
  10. Avoid using public bathrooms.
  11. Avoid calling someone on the phone or ending a phone call quickly.


The research indicates that about 15 million adults in the U.S. struggle with Social Anxiety Disorder, with men and women being equally affected. Studies have also revealed that people may struggle with symptoms for ten years or more before receiving help. However, treatment for Social Anxiety is highly effective and involves a combination of modalities, with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) being the gold-standard treatment. The goal is to help individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs about social situations and gradually expose them to their feared social situations without engaging in “safety behaviors.” Most people with social anxiety aren’t socially inept; instead, they are socially anxious. However, social skill training can also give them greater confidence to face their fears. But ultimately, the goal is to risk rejection or embarrassment without being restricted by your fears and to live a life aligned with your values.
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