Social anxiety, sometimes known as social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD), is a common form of anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to experience intense anxiety in some or all of the social interactions and public events of everyday life. For instance, some sufferers have difficulty attending parties or meetings, making a phone call, walking into a shop to purchase goods, or asking for help from authority figures.
Many people have 'butterflies' or minor nerves before a date, party, or some other event that will put them on public display, but that usually does not prevent them from attending. A true social phobia is an overwhelming fear, which in extreme cases can keep the sufferer housebound and isolated for long periods of time. Sufferers are often abnormally afraid of being judged, watched and possibly humiliated in public as a result of their actions, behaviour or appearance.
Social phobia should not be confused with panic disorder. Sufferers of panic disorder are convinced that their panic comes from some dire physical cause, and often go to the hospital or call for an ambulance during or after their attacks. Social phobics may experience a panic attack when triggered, but they are aware that it is extreme anxiety they are experiencing, and that the cause is an irrational fear. Few social phobics would willingly go to a hospital in that instance, because they fear rejection and judgement by authority figures (medical staff). Dealing with authority figures is particularly difficult for most social phobics, as is making phone inquiries and attending dates, parties, and job interviews.
Psychiatrists often distinguish between generalized and specific social anxiety disorders. People with generalized social anxiety may have great difficulty with most or all social situations. Those with specific social phobias may experience anxiety only in a few situations. For example the most common specific phobia is glossophobia, the fear of public speaking or performance, also known as stage fright. Other examples of specific social phobias include fears of writing in public (scriptophobia), blushing (erythrophobia or ereuthrophobia or erytophobia), eating in public, and using public restrooms.
Social phobia has only recently been recognized as a legitimate medical disorder in its own right, rather than being considered a manifestation of other problems. It can often be successfully treated with a combination of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and group therapy. Anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants can also sometimes be useful therapeutic agents.
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