Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Overview

A person with Social Anxiety Disorder will have intense levels of fear or anxiety of social situations in which that person may feel exposed, evaluated, judged, or scrutinized by others. Social Anxiety Disorder may also be referred to as Social Phobia.

The Details

Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia) involves having fear or anxiety in social situations where the person may be exposed to scrutiny, evaluation, or judgment by others. Fear is the response to an immediate and present threat, while anxiety is a response to an anticipated threat.


Examples of these situations can include public speaking, eating in public, meeting someone new, singing, dancing, or reading to others. In the case of children, the anxiety must be present with other children around their same age and not just in social situations that involve only adults.


Some of the specific worries that a person may feel is that they’ll be judged as being overly anxious, stupid, boring, weak, crazy, strange, or simply that another person just won’t like them. The person may also be afraid that they’ll act in ways that will show their anxiety such as by shaking, tripping over their words, blushing, or sweating. Other people, particularly those from collectivistic cultures, may be afraid that they’ll offend others.


While the degree of anxiety or fear may vary from situation to situation, the presence of anxiety or fear is almost always present when these specific social situations present themselves. A person does not need to show anxiety in all social situations, but will usually be particularly anxious in anticipation of certain types of social events.


The anticipation of an upcoming event can be difficult, with the person worrying and stressing for days or weeks in advance and often trying to come up with reasons or excuses to avoid the situation entirely. Children are more likely to show their anxiety by crying, throwing temper tantrums, freezing or tensing up, or acting in a clingy manner. Sometimes, avoidance can be more subtle for example making a performance shorter, deferring to others to get the attention off of yourself, or showing a movie clip for a significant portion of a presentation.


It’s important however to consider that signs of what may appearto be Social Anxiety Disorder at first, may actually be related to a legitimate concern such as bullying or a cultural expression of respect.

Trends

Across the world, approximately 0.5-2.0% of people may be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, while in the United States, with its emphasis on individual performance, the rates are much higher coming in at approximately 7% of the population.


While rates are similar in adolescents and adults, the prevalence of the diagnosis tends to decrease with age. The majority of people will be first diagnosed between 8 and 15 years of age, while only approximately 2-5% of older adults are diagnosed with Social Phobia.


Sometimes, symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder may emerge following an embarrassing or stressful event such as falling in public while dancing, having a panic attack while giving a class presentation, or becoming nauseous at a restaurant.


Females can be 1.5 to over 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder than their male counterparts. We should keep in mind however that this could, at least in part, be a reporting bias where men are less likely to admit to having anxiety. Among racial and cultural groups, Native Americans experience the highest rates while people of Latin and Hispanic, African American, and Asian ancestry tend to experience some of the lowestrates.


In about 30% of cases a person may see their symptoms lessen or disappear within a year, while about half of people will experience the symptoms for a couple of years before things really start to dissipate. Having a treatment plan can have a big impact on how quickly it takes to resolve the symptoms.


Finally, it’s worth noting that there appears to be a genetic component. A person whose parents or siblings have Social Anxiety Disorder is 2-6 times more likely to develop the condition themselves.

Summary

Social Anxiety Disorder involves fear and/or anxiety about being in social situations where they may be negatively evaluated, judged, or criticized by others. It is not simply the fear of being judged or criticized, but has more to do with the anxiety around being in social situations where judgment and criticism are likely. Social Anxiety Disorder is also known as Social Phobia.


Because of their anxiety, people with Social Phobia often try to avoid specific social situations. The degree of anxiety will vary from person to person and from situation to situation, but the anxiety is persistent whenever a specifically stressful social situation arises.


Those with this diagnosis generally fear being evaluated, being perceived as strange, weak, different, seen sweating or shaking, or feeling embarrassed. Children are more likely to express their anxiety by crying, freezing up, or throwing temper tantrums.


It’s important however, to consider the possibility that a person’s anxiety may be the result of a legitimate concern such as bullying, which can occur to both children and adults.


A majority of people do not seek treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder and as a result deal with it for a very long time. In fact in Western Societies nearly half of people wait as long as 15-20 years before seeking help.

Disclaimer

All information on this website has been professionally prepared, but also intentionally written in a manner that is not overly technical. The terms used here are usually, but not always the formal and proper terminology or diagnoses that would be used between professionals. Similarly, we made a decision to not provide the full and exhaustive diagnostic criteria here. This is done so as to be informative and more easily understood by people who are not in the field of mental health. At the same time all reasonable efforts are taken to assure that the information presented here is as accurate as possible. We also provide a list of common definitions and abbreviations that you may find useful.

While clinical descriptions are not intended to be overly technical, they do attempt to be accurate and consistent with the DSM standards. Any changes made are superficial and done so for the sake of ease of comprehension.

 

It’s important to point out that the information provided on this website is not designed to replace a proper clinical assessment performed by a qualified professional. The descriptions on this website are not intended, nor should they be used to self-diagnose or to diagnose those around you.

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