Facts about Social Phobia
What Is Social Phobia?
Social phobia, also called social anxiety, is a disorder
characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness
in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have a
persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by
others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.
Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school - and
other ordinary activities. While many people with social phobia
recognize that their fear of being around people may be excessive or
unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. They often worry for days
or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation.
Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation - such as
a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or
drinking in front of others - or, in its most severe form, may be so
broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around
other people. Social phobia can be very debilitating - it may even keep
people from going to work or school on some days. Many people with this
illness have a hard time making and keeping friends.
Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social
phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, and other
symptoms of anxiety, including difficulty talking and nausea or other
stomach discomfort. 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.. Social phobia often runs in
families and may be accompanied by depression or alcohol dependence.
How Common Is Social Phobia?
About 3.7% of the U.S. population ages 18 to 54 - approximately
5.3 million Americans - has social phobia in any given year.
Social phobia occurs in women twice as often as in men, although a
higher proportion of men seeks help for this disorder.
The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence
and rarely develops after age 25.
What Causes Social Phobia?
Research to define causes of social phobia is ongoing.
Some investigations implicate a small structure in the brain
called the amygdala in the symptoms of social phobia. The amygdala
is believed to be a central site in the brain that controls fear
Animal studies are adding to the evidence that suggests social
phobia can be inherited. In fact, researchers supported by the
National Institute of Mental Health recently identified the
site of a gene in mice that affects learned fearfulness.
One line of research is investigating a biochemical basis for the
disorder. Scientists are exploring the idea that heightened
sensitivity to disapproval may be physiologically or hormonally
Other researchers are investigating the environment's influence on
the development of social phobia. People with social phobia may
acquire their fear from observing the behavior and consequences of
others, a process called observational learning or social modeling.
What Treatments Are Available for Social Phobia?
Research has shown that there are two
effective forms of treatment available for social phobia:
as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)|
as monoamine oxidase
|Drugs known as high-potency benzodiazepenes|
Some people with a form of social phobia called
performance phobia have been helped by beta-blockers, which are more
commonly used to control high blood pressure.
See Also: Depression
Infocenter in Holisticonline.com
Cognitive-behavior therapy is also very useful in treating social
phobia. The central component of this treatment is exposure therapy,
which involves helping patients gradually become more comfortable with
situations that frighten them.
The exposure process often involves three
- Introducing people to the feared situation.
- Increase the risk for disapproval in that
situation so people build confidence that they can handle rejection or
- Teaching people techniques to cope
with disapproval. In this stage, people imagine their worst fear and are
encouraged to develop constructive responses to their fear and perceived
Cognitive-behavior therapy for social phobia also includes anxiety
management training - for example, teaching people techniques such as
deep breathing to control their levels of anxiety. Another important
aspect of treatment is called cognitive restructuring, which involves
helping individuals identify their misjudgments and develop more
realistic expectations of the likelihood of danger in social situations.
Supportive therapy such as group therapy, or couples or family
therapy to educate significant others about the disorder, is also
helpful. Sometimes people with social phobia also benefit from social
What Other Illnesses Co-Occur With Social Phobia?
Social phobia can cause lowered self-esteem and depression. To try to
reduce their anxiety and alleviate depression, people with social phobia
may use alcohol or other drugs, which can lead to addiction. Some people
with social phobia may also have other anxiety disorders, such as panic
disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.