Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is diagnosed when people become extremely anxious and fearful in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a social event. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities.
People with social phobia have difficulty making and keeping friends. While many people with social phobia realize that their fears about being with people are excessive or unreasonable, they are still unable to overcome them. Even if they manage to face up to their fears and be around others, they are usually very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable throughout the encounter, and worry about how they were judged for hours afterward.
Social phobia can be limited to one situation (such as talking to groups, eating or drinking in front of others, or speaking up in class) or may be so broad (generalized social phobia) that the person experiences anxiety around almost anyone other than close family members.
Physical symptoms that often accompany social phobia include blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking. When these symptoms occur, people with social phobia feel as though all eyes are focused on them. The disorder usually begins in childhood or early adolescence and there is some evidence that genetic factors are involved. Social phobia is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders or depression. Substance abuse problems may develop if people try to self-medicate their anxiety with alcohol or drugs.
Social phobia can be successfully treated with certain kinds of psychotherapy and medications.