Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder) vs. Shyness – symptoms, differences, treatment

To many of us performing, taking exams, or dating someone new will probably sound rather stressful, which is utterly normal. However, chronic fear of daily interactions is not. In clinical terms, such a condition is known as a “social anxiety disorder” or “social phobia.”

Importantly, social phobia is not the same as shyness. A shy person, despite being reserved and uncomfortable with other people, manages to overcome their anxiety and endures social interactions. A phobic person would be too intimidated and paralysed to do so.

Being amidst other people prompts various physical symptoms – an indication of feeling threatened – sweating, blushing, nausea, heart pounding, trembling, shortness of breath, muscle tension, blank mind, or dizziness to name just a few.

Such extreme reactions are often out of proportion to the situation insofar as you may be labeled as “socially awkward” and this gives you a scare even more. Indeed, at the core of social anxiety lies a strong fear of being scrutinised, criticised, embarrassed, humiliated, or rejected by those around you. Hence, eventually you shirk away and withdraw from daily interactions with unknown people and situations where you could be in the spotlight. To top it all, even the thought of some social events becomes dreadful, so you find yourself overthinking recent conversations and anticipating the worst scenario, which even has not taken place. Isolation seemingly works as a panacea but it is tricky and translates into a vicious circle. Slowly it all starts to feel insurmountable as if you were trapped.

Untreated, social phobia may take a great toll on close relationships, hobbies, school and work duties depriving of any pleasure they used to give you. Consequently, damaging social skills, self-esteem, personal achievements, and simply your personality. People who struggle with this mental condition are also more prone to substance abuse or suicide attempts.

Whether it is you or a person close to you who suffers from this condition, therapy could equip with some anxiety management skills and help to learn how to think differently about social interactions. It is also a safe space to be heard and an opportunity to understand why we react in certain ways.