Social phobia is one of the more common anxiety disorders. It involves fear of embarrassment or humiliation in situations where you are exposed to the scrutiny of others or you must perform. This fear is much stronger than the normal anxiety most non-phobic people experience in social or performance situations. Usually it's so strong that it causes you to avoid the situation altogether, although some people with social phobia endure social situations, albeit with considerable anxiety. Typically, your concern is that you will say or do something that will cause others to judge you as being anxious, weak, "crazy", or stupid. Your concern is generally out of proportion with the situation, and you recognize that it's excessive.

The most common social phobia is fear of public speaking. In fact, this is the most common of all phobias and affects performers, speakers, people whose jobs require them to make presentations, and students who have to speak before their class. Public phobia affects a large percentage of the population and is equally prevalent among men and women.

Other common social phobias include:

  • Fear of blushing in public
  • Fear of choking on or spilling food while eating in public
  • Fear of being watched at work
  • Fear of using public toilets
  • Fear of writing or signing documents in the presence of others
  • Fear of crowds
  • Fear of taking examinations

Sometimes social phobia is less specific and involves a generalized fear of any social or group situation where you feel that you might be watched or evaluated. When your fear is of a wide range of social situations (for example, initiating conversations, participating in small groups, speaking to authority figures, dating, attending parties, and so on), the condition is referred to as generalized social phobia.

While social anxieties are common, you would be given a formal diagnosis of social phobia only if your avoidance interferes with work, social activities, or important relationships, and/or it causes you considerable distress. As with agoraphobia, panic attacks can accompany social phobia, although your panic is related more to being embarrassed or humiliated than being confined or trapped. Also, the panic arises only in connection with a specific type of social situation.

If you believe that you have a social phobia, keep in mind that this problem is quite treatable using a variety of therapeutic techniques.

Psychotherapy and/or medication give excellent results. Be proactive! Take action! You have the resources to overcome social phobia.