Feature Archive

Social Phobia


By Ronald Pies
WebMD Feature

Does this scenario sound familiar? The boss says you need to do a presentation in front of some high-powered executives. A week later, you're facing 25 cold, stony faces. You begin to sweat. Your throat tightens and you feel like you're choking. Your heart is doing a tap dance against your ribcage. You begin to feel dizzy and wonder if you're going to be able to stand up. Or how about this: Every time you go out to dinner with someone you're interested in, you freeze up with anxiety. You feel the sweat forming on your brow; your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. The words stick in your mouth, and you feel like a complete idiot. You are very sure the person you're with also thinks you are a complete idiot. As a result, you now keep to yourself, avoiding contact with anybody except business connections.

If these descriptions sound like you or someone you know, you may already know something about social-anxiety disorder, also called social phobia. This disorder is defined as the intense and persistent fear of being scrutinized, judged adversely or humiliated in social situations. When social-phobia sufferers find themselves in the feared situation, they often experience panic attacks. As much as 13 percent of the general public suffers from social phobia over the course of a lifetime, and many will suffer impairment in their educational, financial and vocational lives. Nearly one third of social-phobia sufferers wind up abusing alcohol, probably as "self-medication" for their anxiety. Some even consider suicide, especially if social phobia is accompanied (as it often is) by another psychiatric disorder.

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