Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. Small mistakes may seem painfully embarrassing. Fears might also be more specific, such as anxiety about giving a speech, talking to a boss or authority figure, or dating. Rarely, social anxiety can involve a fear of using a public restroom, eating in public, or talking on the phone. This worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations. Social anxiety disorder can manifest in a range of situations, such as within the workplace or the school environment.

Although this disorder is often thought of as shyness, the two are not the same. Shy people can be very uneasy around others, but they don’t experience the extreme anxiety in anticipating a social situation, and they don’t necessarily avoid circumstances that make them feel self-conscious. In contrast, people with social anxiety are not necessarily shy. They can be completely at ease with people most of the time, but situations such as walking down an aisle in public or making a speech, can give them intense anxiety. Social Anxiety Disorder disrupts normal life and interferes with career or social relationships. For example, a worker can turn down a job promotion because they feel too much anxiety to give public presentations. The dread of a social event can begin weeks in advance, and symptoms can be quite debilitating.

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    American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

    National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Mental Health Information:  Brochures and Fact Sheets.