Does this scenario sound familiar? The boss
says you need to do a presentation in front of some high-powered executives. A
week later, you're facing 25 cold, stony faces. You begin to sweat. Your throat
tightens and you feel like you're choking. Your heart is doing a tap dance
against your ribcage. You begin to feel dizzy and wonder if you're going to be
able to stand up. Or how about this: Every time you go out to dinner with
someone you're interested in, you freeze up with anxiety. You feel the sweat
forming on your brow; your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. The words stick
in your mouth, and you feel like a complete idiot. You are very sure the person
you're with also thinks you are a complete idiot. As a result, you now keep to
yourself, avoiding contact with anybody except business connections.
If these descriptions sound like you or someone you know,
you may already know something about social-anxiety disorder, also called
social phobia. This disorder is defined as the intense and persistent fear of
being scrutinized, judged adversely or humiliated in social situations. When
social-phobia sufferers find themselves in the feared situation, they often
experience panic attacks. As much as 13 percent of the general public suffers
from social phobia over the course of a lifetime, and many will suffer
impairment in their educational, financial and vocational lives. Nearly one
third of social-phobia sufferers wind up abusing alcohol, probably as
"self-medication" for their anxiety. Some even consider suicide,
especially if social phobia is accompanied (as it often is) by another
How well phobia treatment will work depends partly on the severity of the phobia. Though some phobias are never completely cured, therapy can help many people learn to function effectively. Types of therapy include:
Attending phobia clinics and support groups has also helped many people overcome their fears.
In addition, medication may help some people overcome their phobia.
Therapies for Phobia
For specific phobias,...
Some studies show that social phobia is more common in women
than in men; however, in most clinical settings, the sexes are about equally
represented. Social phobia typically has its onset in the mid-teens, sometimes
in a youngster with a history of shyness. Onset of social phobia can follow a
specific, humiliating event, or develop insidiously over many years. Children
who show "selective mutism" (refusing to speak in certain social
situations) may suffer from a form of social phobia. For some, social phobia is
confined to a few very specific situations, such as public speaking. For
others, social phobia is more pervasive and extends to nearly all social
situations. The bad news is that, if left untreated, social phobia is usually a
chronic, unremitting, lifelong disease. The good news is that there are now
several effective treatments for this debilitating disorder.
The Mind-Body Connection
Social-phobia sufferers often show a characteristic pattern
of thinking, which shapes the way they feel. For example, they may approach a
public speech with thoughts like, "I just know I'm going to blow this. I'm
going to break out into a sweat and everybody is going to be laughing at me.
I'll lose my job if I blow this speech. And who would want to hire a jerk like
me anyway?" This sort of negative "self-talk" may not be the cause
of social phobia, but it almost certainly fuels the condition. These
self-destructive thoughts can also lead to bodily symptoms such as sweating,
shaking and choking.