Social anxiety is a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing. Fears of of being humiliated or embarrassed are main symptoms of social anxiety. In other words, social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people. It often creates feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If a person usually becomes anxious in social situations, but seems fine when they are alone, then “social anxiety” may be the problem.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a much more common problem than past estimates have led us to believe. Millions of people all over the world suffer from this devastating and traumatic problem every day of their lives, either from a specific social phobia or from a more generalized social phobia. In the United States, epidemiological studies have recently pegged social anxiety disorder as the third largest psychological disorder in the country.
A specific social phobia would be the fear of speaking in front of groups, or speaking to authority figures; whereas generalized social anxiety indicates that the person is anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable in almost all (or the majority of) social situations.
People with social anxiety disorder usually experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
- Being introduced to other people
- Being teased or criticized
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched while doing something
- Meeting people in authority (“important people”)
- Most social encounters, particularly with strangers
- Making “small talk” at parties
- Going around the room in a circle and having to say something
This list is certainly not a complete list of symptoms — other feelings may be associated with social anxiety as well.
The physiological manifestations that accompany social anxiety may include intense fear, racing heart, turning red or blushing, dry throat and mouth, trembling, swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches.