Do you dread going to parties or events where you might be the center of attention? Do you avoid speaking to others for fear of being embarrassed? Many people enjoy getting together with friends and coworkers, but for others these social gatherings can be a source of great distress.
While it’s not unusual to feel slightly nervous in social situations, people with social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder) have a chronic fear that they will do something humiliating or embarrassing. As children, they may have avoided school or other activities involving peers. Common symptoms prior to a social situation include rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, blushing, and upset stomach.
Whereas people who feel shy may not restrict their activities, those with social phobia may react by having a panic attack prior to a social event, or by avoiding such events altogether. Often they are comfortable around other people in general, but fear specific situations, such as eating or speaking in public. Social phobia may be the most common anxiety disorder; as many as 13% of the population will be affected at some point in their lives.
In social phobia, fear and avoidance of social situations significantly interfere with a person’s normal life–the ability to work, socialize, and have meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, most of those affected never seek help.
The good news is that anxiety disorders such as social phobia are more treatable than ever. Both psychotherapy and medications have been found to be effective. Therapy usually involves gradually practicing new behaviors (e.g., talking in front of a group) and revising negative thoughts (e.g., changing the thought, “I would die if I embarrassed myself at the party” to “it would be uncomfortable being embarrassed, but I would survive”). Talking to a counselor is the first step in determining if you have social phobia. If so, chances are that with treatment, you’ll eventually feel more confident and comfortable at the parties you once dreaded.