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What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgement, evaluation, and inferiority. Put another way, social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.


The anxiety becomes worse when the person fears that they are going to be singled out, ridiculed, criticised, embarrassed, or belittled. On occasions, the anxiety is so high that panic attacks develop in response to some specific social event (e.g. giving a speech).


People with social anxiety realise that their fear is exaggerated, but they still cannot control it. They tend to avoid situations in which they need to perform in front of others, and this tends to interfere with life adjustment in some way. As you would expect, people with social anxiety disorder have an elevated rate of relationship difficulties and substance abuse. They also feel their self-worth is low, feel inadequate and have difficulty being assertive.


As many as 10 per cent of the population may experience social anxiety to some degree, although they all do not seek treatment. Many people are fearful of public speaking, but manage to avoid it and cope well within a slightly more limited life sphere. Some individuals have more severe social anxiety, and are even fearful of talking to strangers in any capacity.


These people have more serious adjustment problems, and are more likely to seek treatment. Social anxiety tends to develop during the teen years, but often in children described as excessively shy.


Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, palpitations, intense fear, dry mouth, panic attacks, trembling, and other symptoms of anxiety, including difficulty talking and nausea or other stomach discomforts. 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.


People with social anxiety disorder usually experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:

  • Being introduced to other people · Being teased or criticised

  • Being the centre of attention

  • Being watched while doing something

  • Meeting people in authority ("important people")

  • Most social encounters, especially with strangers

  • Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something

  • Fear of using public bathrooms or writing in public

  • Interpersonal relationships, whether friendships or romantic


This list is certainly not a complete list of symptoms -- other feelings have been associated with social anxiety.

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