Social anxiety, sometimes known as social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD), is a common form of anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to dread the social interactions and public events of everyday life, e.g. parties, meetings, or even making a phone call or walking into a shop to purchase goods.
Many people have 'butterflies' or minor nerves before a date, party, or some other event that will put them on public display, but that usually does not prevent them from attending. A true social phobia is an overwhelming fear, which in extreme cases can keep the sufferer housebound and isolated for long periods of time. They are abnormally afraid of being judged, watched and possibly humiliated in public as a result of their actions, behaviour or appearance.
Social phobia should not be confused with panic disorder. Sufferers of panic disorder are convinced that their panic comes from some dire physical cause, and often go to the hospital or call for an ambulance during or after their attacks. Social phobics may experience a panic attack when triggered, but they are aware that it is extreme anxiety they are experiencing, and that the cause is an irrational fear. Few social phobics would willingly go to a hospital in that instance, because they fear rejection and judgement by authority figures (e.g. medical staff.) Dealing with authority figures is particularly difficult for most social phobics, as is making phone inquiries, attending dates, parties and job interviews.
The most common social phobia is glossophobia, the fear of public speaking or performance, also known as stage fright.
Examples of specific social phobias (as opposed to generalized social phobia) include fears of writing in public, blushing (erythrophobia), eating in public, and using public restrooms (see paruresis.)
Social phobia has only recently been recognised as a legitimate medical disorder in its own right, rather than being considered a manifestation of other problems. It can often be successfully treated with a combination of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and group therapy. Anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants can also sometimes be useful therapeutic agents.
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