Social anxiety (also known as social phobia) is one of a group of disorders that are marked by excessive fear and anxiety. Fear involves an emotional response to an immediate threat - whether that threat is real or imagined. Anxiety on the other hand is is about the future - anticipating a future threat.
In adults, social anxiety involves the fear of being looked upon negatively by others and happens in situations where there is the possibility of being noticed and evaluated by others. This can include (among others):
social situations where you are meeting new people or where you may have to join in conversations.
being observed, for example when eating or drinking.
performing in front of others, such as giving a speech.
People with social anxiety fear that they will act in a way that will show their anxiety and that they will then be embarrassed, humiliated, or rejected by others.
They find that social situations will almost always bring on this fear or anxiety. Social anxiety is not a "sometime" thing. Usually, the fear, anxiety, and avoidance lasts for 6 months or more. However, some find that the amount and type of fear and anxiety may be different in different settings or on different occasions.
Those with social anxiety will actively avoid social situations. When a situation can't be avoided they can be extremely difficult to get through resulting in intense feelings of fear or anxiety. These feelings of fear and anxiety are out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the situation. In other words, the fear is much greater than any consequence of being negatively evaluated is.
Not only are the feelings extremely intense, and out of proportion to the actual threat, they also interfere with daily living, social interactions, or work performance.
All of this can lead to difficulty in attending school, getting or keeping a job, or developing close relationships with others.
The good news is that social anxiety is treatable. If you or someone you know is suffering from social anxiety, please seek help.
About the Author
Linda Krochak Krochak is a registered psychologist practicing in Medicine Hat, Alberta.