Social phobias are characterised by the fear of being the centre of attention and/or behaving in an embarrassing or humiliating manner. It is fair to say that sufferers in this category rarely, if ever, behave in this manner but they “avoid” just in case.
The most common social phobia is a fear of public speaking. This can affect performers, speakers, people whose jobs require them to make presentations, and students who have to speak before their class. Public speaking affects a large percentage of the population and is equally prevalent among men and women.
Examples of other social phobias include:
- Fear of blushing in public
- Fear of choking on or spilling food while in public
- Fear of being watched at work
- Fear of using public toilets
- Fear of writing or signing documents in the presence of others
- Fear of crowds
- Fear of taking exams.
- Fear of eating in restaurants or pubs
- Fear of having guests in the house
- Fear of being watched whilst carrying out everyday chores – such as washing up, preparing food or even making a cup of tea.
Sometimes social phobia is less specific and involves a generalized fear of any social or group situation where you feel that you might be watched or evaluated. When your fear is of a wide range of social situations (for example, initiating conversations, participating in small groups, speaking to authority figures, dating, attending parties, and so on), the condition is referred to as generalized social phobia.
While social anxieties are common, you would be given a formal diagnosis of social phobia only if your avoidance interferes with work, social activities, or important relationships, and/or it causes you considerable distress. As with agoraphobia, panic attacks can accompany social phobia, although your panic is related more to being embarrassed or humiliated than to being confined or trapped. Also the panic arises only in connection with specific types of social situations.
Social phobias tend to develop earlier than agoraphobia and can begin in late childhood or adolescence. They often develop in shy children around the time they’re faced with increased peer pressure at school. Typically these phobias persist (without treatment) through adolescence and young adulthood, but have a tendency to decrease in severity later in life.