About the Social Phobia

About The Social Phobia

Marta Czarnocka-Cieciura


My presentation was about one of the most common, but rarely mentioned psychiatric disorder: social anxiety disorder also known as social phobia. It is the fear about social situations rather than people themselves.

It is estimated that 7-8% of the population have or had social phobia. Its symptoms usually appear between the age of 17 and 30. It's more frequent among women, but men who suffer it usually have more social problems, as males are generally more expected to be bold and self-confident. It is not clear what are the causes of social anxiety disorder, but social rejection or being a subject of bullying in school definitely increases the risk of developing social phobia. Nevertheless, it is also not so rare among people who were never being persecuted and often occur with other anxiety disorders, especially agoraphobia – the fear of entering wide open or crowded areas.

The most stressful situations for someone suffering from social phobia includes:
→ public speeches or other situations that require being is in the limelight
→ chatting with strangers
→ talking to authorities
→ dating
→ being assertive
→ eating and drinking in public places
→ using public toilets (especially for men)
Many people feel somehow nervous in such situations and that don't necessary mean they suffer social phobia. It's whole spectrum between a little stage-fright and serious anxiety disorder, but one should be worried if any of such fears seriously impede his or her life. It is also worth mention that not everyone suffering social phobia is afraid of all situations mentioned above. Some individuals may behave perfectly normal in many social situations while panicked in others.

The symptoms of social phobia includes several physiological and behavioral reactions, such as blushing, sweating, trembling, nervous tics, speech disorders and other fear symptoms, up to panic attacks. People suffering social phobia are usually well aware of the symptoms of their disorder and the thought that others see their weird behavior make them even more nervous. Only some of the phobics can control their symptoms, and then they seems to be extremely quiet and withdrawn person.

People suffering social phobia often avoid situation causing their fear. It frequently means that they are lonely, have few friends and waive many opportunities such as studies or better work. Such avoidance help temporarily reduce stress, but in long term it cause low self-esteem, depression and prevent the individual from getting rid with his or her fears. People suffering social phobia have tendency to overdose alcohol and drugs, because they may use it to feel more self-confident.

The social phobia can be treated using psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, sometimes assisted with pharmacological treatment (antidepressants). The emotional support from family and friends is also very helpful. The problem is that many people suffering social phobia are afraid of talking about their problems, so their rarely go to psychologist or psychiatrist to start treatment. Fortunately, there exist some internet forums for people with social phobia and similar disorders. The feeling of anonymity and opportunity to write instead of speaking face to face help many people talk about their problems and find others which can understand them. Despite of it, I don't recommend spending too much time on such forums, because it may be quite depressing in long term and it does not fulfil the need of interaction with real people.

At the end I'd like to give a few advice how to behave when you have to do with someone who you suspect is suffering from social phobia.
→ don't show that you see the nervous reactions of such person. If you are worrying about him or her it's always better to ask in private and do not focus others attention on unusual behavior of your friend.
→ don't make remarks like „don't be so shy”, because that person for sure want to be more self confident, but it's too hard for him or her.
→ It's good to encourage such person to came to meetings or parties, but never insist too much nor force him or her to come to such events. It would not help and your friend might start to avoid you.

Literature and links (PL):

  • Hope D. A., Heimberg R. G. i in (2007) Terapia lęku społecznego. Podejście poznawczo-behawioralne. Alliance Press, Gdynia.
  • Rabe-jabłońska, J. (2002). Fobia społeczna. Rozpowszechnienie, kryteria rozpoznawania, podtypy, przebieg, współchorobowość, leczenie. Psychiatria w praktyce Ogólnolekarskiej, 2(3), 161–166.
  • http://fobiaspoleczna.info
  • http://niesmialosc.net/wskorupce.htm

Slides (PL)

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