Frequently Asked Questions
How serious is social phobia?
Social phobia is a serious condition that can have a major effect on people’s lives. It’s impossible to avoid all social interaction with people around you, meaning that people with social phobia are often forced to experience their fears on a daily basis. Severe social phobia can stop you enjoying almost every aspect of life and social phobics often struggle to work, go to school, form relationships and make friends.Can social phobia just go away by itself?
Unfortunately, this isn’t very likely. Once someone has social phobia it affects how they see and react to the world: they begin to see all social situations as being threatening and scary, and so will start to worry about them constantly and take steps to avoid them. Continuing to avoid and worry about social situations increases anxiety levels, which increases the desire to avoid. Once this cycle starts it is very unlikely that it will simply stop on its own- but it can be broken by systematically examining and confronting your fearful thoughts. This can be done through therapy or on by using self-directed guide.Are there any diagnostic tests for social phobia?
Like all anxiety disorders, social phobia is measured and diagnosed using a questionnaire-style assessment. The assessment for social phobia is known as the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), and involves questions relating to how much you fear things like speaking to people in authority, being embarrassed in front of people, or being the centre of attention. All tools used to diagnose anxiety disorders are rigorously tested and examined for accuracy.Can social phobia be prevented?
Preventing any kind of anxiety disorder is tricky as it’s hard to predict what will trigger it and in whom. Taking steps to reduce stress in your life and looking after yourself generally can help reduce the risk of developing social phobia, and taking the time to practice and increase your confidence in situations that frighten you, such as public speaking, can stop them becoming a problem later in life.When is the earliest in life that a person might display symptoms of social phobia?
The average age of onset for social phobia is around 16. However, it is not uncommon for social phobia to develop much younger. Children as young as 5 of 6 can start to show symptoms of social phobia, although this is often hard to distinguish from normal shyness in childhood.Why is this considered a mental health condition and not just one of many different kinds of normal personalities?
Just like depression is different from feeling sad and having a pessimistic personality, social phobia is a very different thing to simply being shy or introverted. Social phobia goes above and beyond these personality traits and causes severe limitations to a person’s life. It is therefore considered a mental health condition and can be reliably tested for, diagnosed and treated, just like any other illness.Is Social Phobia a Disease?
That depends what you mean by disease- social phobia certainly isn’t something you can catch from someone else! The term illness might be more appropriate as it conveys that social phobia is a real condition with a recognizable set of causes and symptoms, just like any other mental or physical illness.Can Social phobia be cured?
Absolutely yes! Treatments based on exposure to the feared situations and changing the way you think are highly effective in reducing symptoms and helping people overcome social phobia. Social phobia can be a very debilitating condition to like with, but it certainly does not have to affect you for your entire life.Is social phobia hereditary?
Not exactly. There is no single gene that causes social phobia, but there are genes which increase the likelihood of developing anxiety disorders in general, and these can be passed down in families. Families also often share the same experiences and environment growing up, which are just as important in developing social phobia as your DNA.What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is a severe fear of social situations. The condition is characterised by an intense fear of situations such as public speaking, eating in public, talking to people in authority, being criticised, and large social gatherings. People with social anxiety disorder will often be highly distressed by the thought of such situations and will worry about them for a long time in advance, often going to extreme lengths to avoid them. Social phobics often suffer from very low self esteem and perceive themselves as constantly being judged and criticised by other people.Is social anxiety serious?
Social anxiety can be a very serious condition, causing severe distress and impairment to the lives of sufferers. Inability to engage in social situations can stop people from working, going outside and forming any kind of close relationships. Social phobics are often very isolated and lonely, and suffering from another kind of anxiety or depression as a result is very common.Is SAD the same as extreme shyness?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a lot more than just shyness. Shyness is a personality trait while SAD is a mental health disorder with a scientifically tested set of symptoms, causes and treatment types. SAD involves a range of thought processes that cause the sufferer to want to avoid social situations at all costs, and also causes the sufferer to believe a range of negative and unhelpful things about themselves and the world around them. Shyness is relatively common while SAD only affects a certain percentage of the population.What are the signs and symptoms of social phobia?
How common is the social phobia and who experiences it?
Social phobia is characterised by an extreme and irrational fear of social situations. During social situations social phobics will often experience:
- Intense anxiety
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or faint
Social phobics are often highly afraid of looking afraid in public situations, so these symptoms only serve to make their anxiety worse.
The emotional and cognitive symptoms associated with social phobia include:
- Fear of social events long before they occur
- Worry about what others think of you
- Low self-esteem
- Highly self-critical thoughts
- Fear of humiliation
- Intrusive thoughts about social situations that cause you distress
- Fear of saying the wrong thing
Estimates of what percentage of the population is suffering from social phobia at any given time vary between 2% and 20% depending on the measures and severity of symptoms used. Social phobia can affect anyone but is most common in women, young people and people from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.How is social anxiety different from being anxious or worried?
Social anxiety is specific to social situations and often revolves around fear of being judged by others, fear of talking in front of large groups of people or of talking to people in authority. People with social anxiety disorder show such high levels of worry about these situations that it severely impacts their day to day lives. So while being a bit before giving a speech or meeting new people is normal, social anxiety is much more severe than that.