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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Social Anxiety Disorder: Home

This guide provides resources about social anxiety disorder, or social phobia.

What is social anxiety disorder?

According to Black’s Medical Dictionary, social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is a “condition in which an individual is fearful or embarrassed in company and tends to avoid social situations and activities, thereby impairing the formation of relationships, reducing life quality and adversely affecting performance at school or work. It may be recurrent or persistent and may coexist with depression, panic disorders, general anxiety or substance abuse” (43rd edition, 2018). While it is typical for humans to feel anxious in certain social situations, such as during a presentation, date, or interview, social anxiety disorder is a type of phobia that initiates “intense and unrealistic” fears in response to day-to-day social interactions. As a result, this disorder can lead to “severe stress [that] can affect… daily routine[s], work, school or other activities” (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).                

Who is affected by social anxiety disorder?

According to the Social Anxiety Association, social anxiety disorder is the third largest mental health care problem in the world, following alcoholism and depression. Some additional information conveying the prevalence and impact of this disorder include the following: 

  • Approximately 19 million people across America are affected by this disorder, making it the most common anxiety disorder
  • Women and men are equally likely to develop the disorder
  • Often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, such as depression, OCD, or other anxiety disorders

Despite the many avenues of treatment there are for this particular disorder, many individuals affected do not seek help. Some staggering statistics regarding treatment for social anxiety disorder include the following: 

  • Fewer than 5% of people with disorder seek treatment during the year of its initial onset
  • More than 1/3 of people report symptoms of disorder for 10 or more years before seeking help

Statistics from Anxiety.org, the Social Anxiety Association, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Symptoms

Physical symptoms

  • Blushing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank

Emotional/behavioral symptoms

  • Fear of situations in which you may be judged
  • Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
  • Intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
  • Fear that others will notice that you look anxious 
  • Fear of physical symptoms that may cause you embarrassment, such as blushing, sweating, trembling, or having a shaky voice
  • Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
  • Avoiding situations in which you might be the center of attention
  • Having anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
  • Enduring a social situation with intense fear or anxiety
  • Spending time after a social situation analyzing your performance and identifying flaws in your interactions
  • Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation
  • Avoiding common social situations*

*Some common social situations include:

  • Interacting with unfamiliar people or strangers
  • Attending parties or social gatherings
  • Going to work or school
  • Starting conversations
  • Making eye contact
  • Dating
  • Entering a room in which people are already seated
  • Returning items to a store
  • Eating in front of others
  • Using a public restroom

Symptom information from Mayo Clinic, Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

What causes social anxiety disorder to develop?

According to Anxiety.org, some commonly cited causes for social anxiety disorder include the following:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Trauma
  • Long-term stress
  • Chemical imbalances 
  • Family history of anxiety disorders

Information from Anxiety.org

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