Remember the last time you gave a presentation or had to perform in front of an audience? Chances are you felt a little nervous. Remember how relieved you were when it was all over? People with social phobia rarely experience such relief. That’s because they feel as if their every public move—eating at a restaurant, standing in line at the supermarket—is subject to scrutiny. In severe cases, social phobia forces people to avoid public activities and social obligations altogether.
Millions of people have some sort of social anxiety problem. Women are affected twice as often as men.
Like many people, you may be shy in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean you have social phobia. Although shyness and social anxiety are related, shy people don’t necessarily dread or avoid social situations like someone with social anxiety might.
If you agree with any of these statements, you may have a problem:
- I feel like everyone is going to make fun of me when I walk into a room.
- Just thinking about eating in public makes me sweat or tremble.
- People can tell I’m nervous when I talk to them.
- Sometimes I stay inside my house all day to avoid public humiliation.
- I have difficulty talking to authority figures.
- When I’m around people my heart often starts to race, I sweat and my mouth becomes very dry.
- I never really feel relaxed around people.
Social phobia usually doesn’t go away on its own. What’s worse, it puts people at high risk for depression, alcoholism and suicide. There are four main ways doctors help people overcome their anxieties:
Medication can restore chemical imbalances that may contribute to the condition. Behavior therapy teaches patients to conquer their fear by gradually exposing them to it. Cognitive therapy helps people reverse unrealistic thoughts that cause their phobia. Relaxation techniques help people manage stress.
With professional care, as many as 80 percent of social anxiety patients resume fulfilling lives.