According to the US National Comorbidity Survey, social anxiety has a 12-month prevalence rate of 6.8%, making it the third most common mental disorder in the United States. It’s natural to feel self-conscious or shy in front of others at times. But for some, the anxiety that goes with feeling self-conscious can be extreme. Social anxiety affects 15 million American adults, the majority of whom are women.
It is probably more than shyness when people feel so self-conscious and insecure that it keeps them much of the time from speaking up or socializing. It may be an anxiety disorder called social phobia.
Symptoms of Social Phobia
Extreme feelings of self-consciousness develop into a powerful fear. As a consequence, it makes a person feel insecure about participating in daily social situations.
Individuals with social phobia will comfortably interact with family and a few close friends in general. But meeting new individuals, talking in a group, or speaking in public can cause their extreme shyness to kick in.
The intense shyness of a person, self-consciousness, and fears of humiliation get in the way of living a normal life. Instead of enjoying social activities, individuals with social phobia might fear them and entirely avoid some of them
Impact of Social Anxiety
A person who experiences social phobia may dwell on the embarrassing things that might happen rather than focusing on reality. This makes a scenario look much worse than it is and affects the person’s ability to prevent it.
Social phobia can adversely impact someone’s life in the following ways:
- Feeling lonely or disappointed over lost friendship and enjoyable opportunities. Social phobia might stop someone from talking in the lunchroom with friends, joining an after-school group, going to a dance, or asking someone on a date.
- Not getting the best out of school. Social phobia can prevent a person from volunteering a classroom response, reading aloud, or giving a presentation. Someone with social phobia can feel too anxious to ask a class question or go to a teacher for assistance.
- Missing an opportunity to express their strengths and learn new abilities. Social phobia could prevent anyone from being in the talent show, trying out for a band, or joining a service project, from auditioning for the school play. Social phobia does not only deter individuals from doing new stuff. It also prevents them from making everyday mistakes that can improve their skills.
Individuals may decline job opportunities that require frequent interaction with new people.
People with social phobia can learn to control anxiety, develop trust and coping skills, and stop avoiding situations that make them nervous. It is not always straightforward. Overcoming social phobia means finding the strength it takes, little by little, to go beyond what is easy.
Therapists may help individuals understand the physical sensations triggered by fight-flight and teach them to perceive these sensations. One study found that 85% of participants significantly improved or recovered from social anxiety using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy alone. Therapists will help individuals develop a one-by-one strategy to face social fears and help them build the skills and trust to do it. It also includes practicing new behaviors. Sometimes, medications that reduce anxiety are used as part of social phobia treatment.
Family or friends are vital for people who are dealing with social phobia. The right support from a few people can help those with social phobia develop the confidence to step beyond their comfort zone and try something different.
Lectures, criticisms, and demands to change can make matters worse — and make a person feel bad. Instead, friends and family should encourage the person to choose a small target to reach for, remind them to go for it and be there when they feel frustrated.
The Bottom Line
It requires strength to deal with social phobia, face fears and try new things. When feeling shy, it takes a determination to go forward rather than walking away.
If you’re experiencing social phobia, you can learn to feel more relaxed with the right help. Any small move forward helps to create sufficient confidence to take the next big step. As shyness and worries begin to dissolve, trust, and optimistic emotions build up. You’ll think less about what might feel awkward and more about what might be enjoyable.