Social phobia is defined as the fear of embarrassment or of humiliating oneself in a public situation.
For the sufferer this fear is far stronger than the normal anxiety felt by a non phobic person in a public or social situations. It is usually so severe that social situations will be completely avoided where at all possible or endured with a great level of anxiety where it is an unavoidable situation. Typically the sufferer will be afraid of saying or doing something which would cause others to view them as being weak, anxious or even crazy. This concern is normally out of proportion to the situation they are in.
Fear of public speaking is the number one social phobia and actually the most common of all phobias. It affects all types of people from the student who has to speak in class, managers making company presentations and actors/performers. This phobia is equally present in men and women and affects a large portion of the global population.
Other common social phobias would include:
- Fear of crowded places
- Fear of exams
- Fear of having to use public toilets
- Fear of eating in a public place
- Fear of work mates watching you
- Fear of embarrassment/blushing
You would only be given a diagnosis of social phobia if your avoidance technique is causing you considerable distress and interfering with work or family life. If your phobia is less specific and you fear a wide range of situations but are able to endure them with some anxiety you would be classed as having generalized social phobia.
As with other phobias you may also experience panic attacks associated with your fear of social and public situations.
Social phobia can begin early in life with shy children prone to developing social phobia and carrying it through to adulthood. In some sufferers there is a tendency for the disorder to mellow in later life although others will continue to suffer throughout their lifetime.
Methods used to treat social phobia include:
- Relaxation therapy - abdominal and deep breathing exercises
- Cognitive therapy - replacing harmful thoughts with constructive ones
- Exposure therapy - gradually being exposed to your fears, ideally in a group situation
- Assertiveness training - the ability to say no when necessary
- Medication - most commonly SSRIs or benzodiazepines, occasionally MAO-inhibiters
If you believe you or a loved one are suffering from social phobia then do seek help, initially from your family doctor who will discuss the best options for treatment and if necessary refer you to a specialist who has experience in anxiety disorders.
Remember, there is help available, you do not have to suffer in silence.
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