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Social anxiety (social phobia)

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition characterized by an intense and persistent fear of social situations where a person may be scrutinized, judged, or evaluated by others. This fear often leads to avoidance of social interactions, which can significantly impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.



The symptoms of social anxiety can be both emotional and physical, and they tend to manifest in social situations:
Emotional Symptoms:
Intense Fear: Feeling an overwhelming and irrational fear of social situations.
Anticipatory Anxiety: Worrying excessively about upcoming social events.
Fear of Embarrassment: A strong fear of being humiliated, embarrassed, or judged negatively by others.
Avoidance Behaviour: Going to great lengths to avoid social situations, or enduring them with extreme discomfort.
Physical Symptoms:
Rapid Heartbeat: Increased heart rate or palpitations.
Sweating: Profuse sweating, especially in situations where one feels anxious.
Trembling or Shaking: Physical tremors or shakiness, particularly in the hands.
Dry Mouth: Difficulty speaking due to a dry mouth.
Nausea or Upset Stomach: Digestive discomfort or queasiness.
Muscle Tension: Feeling tense or on edge, with possible muscle tension or twitches.
Cognitive Symptoms:
Negative Self-Talk: Engaging in negative self-talk or self-criticism.
Mind Reading: Assuming that others are thinking negatively about oneself without any evidence.
Catastrophic Thinking: Imagining the worst-case scenarios in social situations.
Behavioural Symptoms:
Avoidance: Avoiding social gatherings, public speaking, or situations where one feels exposed to scrutiny.
Limited Eye Contact: Difficulty maintaining eye contact with others.
Limited Verbal Communication: Struggling to speak, with a fear of sounding foolish or inadequate.


The development of social anxiety is likely influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors:
Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic vulnerability to developing social anxiety.
Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, may play a role.
Environmental Factors: Traumatic or embarrassing social experiences can contribute to the development of social anxiety.
Learned Behaviour: Observing or experiencing social discomfort or rejection can reinforce anxious behaviour.
Personality Traits: Shyness, introversion, or a predisposition to anxiety may contribute.


A diagnosis of social anxiety is typically made by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. The diagnosis is based on a thorough assessment that includes a detailed clinical interview, observation of behaviour, and, in some cases, the use of standardized assessment tools.


Treatment for social anxiety often involves a combination of therapies:
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns, develop coping strategies, and gradually face feared social situations.
Exposure Therapy: Gradual and controlled exposure to anxiety-provoking situations, allowing individuals to practice coping skills.
Medication: In some cases, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms.
Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like meditation and deep breathing can help manage stress and anxiety.
Social Skills Training: Learning and practicing effective communication and social interaction skills.
Support Groups: Joining a support group or seeking peer support can provide a sense of community and understanding.
Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and ensuring adequate sleep can support mental well-being.
It's important to note that treatment plans are highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another. A mental health professional will work closely with the individual to develop a tailored approach to their specific needs and circumstances. Early intervention and consistent support are crucial for managing social anxiety and promoting well-being.

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