What is Social Phobia, its Symptoms & Causes
When interviewed by the media, people often ask me, “What is Social Phobia?”
Social Phobia is an anxiety disorder where the sufferer fears being negatively judged or evaluated by others and therefore they are afraid of doing something to embarrass or humiliate themselves in public.
Some common social phobias are:
- Public speaking
- Performing on stage
- Dealing with authority figures
- Eating and drinking
- Using public toilets
- Sexual performance
- Taking an exam
- Social encounters in general
Some sufferers may only fear and/or avoid only one specific situation whereas others may be concerned about several social or performance situations.
When the social phobia sufferer is faced with one of their feared situations they may experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as:
- heart palpitations
- tense muscles
- dry mouth
Some sufferers do not experience physical symptoms of anxiety but feel very self conscious and afraid.
Shy /socially phobic people believe that other people expect them to behave perfectly and if they don’t they will be seen by others as stupid and consequently be rejected.
Shy people also look for negative reactions from other people which distracts them focussing on the task at hand and seeing the positive feedback.
Furthermore, Shy/ socially phobic people underestimate their social skills and abilities. They tend to think that they are e.g., a boring person to talk to or looking nervous when giving a speech.
Given that sufferers experience marked mental and physical anxiety they tend to avoid the feared social situations and in severe cases may therefore be very socially isolated.
It is important that people have a correct understanding of what is social phobia as the condition often is misdiagnosed as conditions such as panic disorder or body dysmorphic disorder.
Why do I have Social phobia?
Research suggests that people may inherit a predisposition to develop social phobia. However, environmental factors such as family patterns and specific negative experiences also influence the degree and form shyness/ social phobia takes.
How common is social phobia?
Social phobia is the most common anxiety disorder and is thought to affect 1 in 10 people at some time in their lives. Approximately 3% of people are thought to have the condition at any one time.
When does it start?
Social phobia tends to begin in childhood or adolescence. According to the World Psychiatric Association (1995), roughly 40% of social phobias begin before the age of 10 and 95% start before the age of 20.
43% of children with social anxiety have anxiety driven school refusal. At least 30% of school refusers are thought to have social phobia.
What effects does the condition have on sufferers lives?
According to the World Psychiatric Association (1995), social anxiety sufferers , compared to the general population, are more likely to:
- be single
- attain a lower level of education
- have other psychiatric conditions such as: depression, simple phobia and agoraphobia
- contemplate and/or commit suicide
- be on social security payments or on a disability pension
- have few or no friends and acquaintances
- abuse drugs and/or alcohol
- have an erratic work history, e.g. being repeatedly fired, often absent from or late to work.
Given that social phobia can have a very negative impact upon ones life it is important to seek treatment as early as possible.
Social Phobia Success Stories
Many sufferers of the condition have come forward in recent years to reduce the stigma attached to anxiety disorders and to share their stories of recovery.
American entertainers such as Donny Osmond, Barbara Streisand and Kim Basinger have all spoken to the media of their experience of social phobia and eventual recovery. Furthermore, Australians such as actors Garry McDonald, Rebecca Gibney and Simon Palomares have all overcome their anxiety to lead fulfilling lives. You can too.
Information from Pocket Reference to Social Phobia by the World Psychiatric Association, Social Phobia Task Force. Editor S.A. Montgomery
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