Many people have anxiety in social situations, especially when meeting new people, but the fear is usually not severe and typically passes. For people with social phobia, however, the fear of embarrassment in social situations is excessive, extremely intrusive and can have debilitating effects on personal and professional relationships.
The symptoms and signs of social phobia
At least 7.2 million Americans experience clinically significant phobias in a given year, many of them have social phobia. Phobias are persistent, irrational fears of certain objects or situations.
People with social phobia have an overwhelming and disabling fear of disapproval in social situations. They recognize that their fear may be excessive or unreasonable, but are unable to overcome it. The symptoms and signs of social phobia include blushing, sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, nausea or other stomach discomfort, lightheadedness, and other symptoms of anxiety.
Unless treated, social phobia can be extremely disabling to a person's work, social and family relationships. In extreme cases, a person may begin to avoid all social situations and become housebound. The good news is that effective treatment for social phobia is available and can be tremendously helpful to people living with this disorder.
Effective treatments for social phobias include medications, a specific form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
Medications for social phobias include antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), as well as drugs known as high-potency benzodiazepenes. People with a specific form of social phobia, called performance phobia, can be helped with drugs called beta-blockers.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger anxiety symptoms. For example, a type of cognitive-behavioral treatment known as "exposure therapy" involves helping patients become more comfortable with situations that frighten them by gradually increasing exposure to the situation.
This article incorporates information provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).