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Social anxiety is sometimes also called social phobia and involves feeling scared or anxious about social situations and being around other people, especially people you don’t know. It is one of the most common anxiety disorders and is much more than just “shyness.” People with social anxiety tend to experience intense fear when faced with social situations such as talking on the phone, meeting friends in a public place or starting conversations.
It is generally more common in women than men and often starts in adolescence. What causes social anxiety is generally not known, but is thought to be down to multiple factors and can be influenced by how your parents behave in social situations.
Am I socially anxious?
The signs may vary between individuals and differ depending on your age. For example, children may worry about going to school, freeze or cry in social situations. Adolescents and adults may experience:
- Dreading everyday situations such as talking in groups or on the phone, eating or drinking in front of others, going to parties etc
- Have low self-esteem and feel insecure in relationships
- Fear being criticised or humiliating themselves
- Avoid eye contact
- Use substances to alleviate anxiety and mask symptoms
- Some people may experience panic attacks when facing a social situation, see our section on panic for more information
When is social anxiety a problem?
Like any disorder, what you consider to be a problem might be very different to someone else. If you believe that social anxiety is getting in the way of you living the life you want, then it is a problem and worth seeking help. For some people, the fear causes them to avoid social situations altogether and may severely impact on their quality of life.
What helps social anxiety?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is widely accepted as a highly effective treatment for Social Anxiety. This usually involves around 14 sessions of one to one therapy. It will help you explore why the social anxiety developed, what is keeping it around and ways to overcome it. Part of this involves gradually facing feared social situations, learning to manage the anxiety that arises and challenging beliefs you might have about what will happen in a social situation. For children of seven or older, group therapy is recommended.