Social phobia or social anxiety disorder is defined as an intense anxiety/fear of social situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or in which the person believes that there is a risk of being judged or evaluated by others. Social phobia is different from common shyness and the stress involved in it can affect the person’s daily functioning. The experience of fear can be so intense that the person may get nervous just by thinking of the upcoming situation and is willing to do anything to avoid it. Daily activities such as work, shopping and communicating via phone can be extremely difficult and may cause strong feelings of anxiety. In addition, social gatherings and situations where the person must perform in public may be even more daunting for those affected by social anxiety.
Behind this intense discomfort , lurks the fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or ridiculed in public. Often people with social anxiety think that others will form a negative impression of them, or that in a particular social event they will not perform as effectively as others.
If you have social anxiety, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Intense anxiety about social situations. You may worry that you will behave in an awkward or embarrassing way and that others will think you’re stupid, weak, etc. You may also be afraid that others, especially strangers, will observe and judge your every move or that they will notice that you’re anxious and judge you negatively because of it.
- You may be worried for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation.
- When you are exposed to the feared social situation, you may experience physical symptoms of anxiety that resemble those of a panic attack such as shortness of breath, tightness in chest, sweating, upset stomach, blushing and feeling dizzy.
- You may try to avoid feared situations in such an extent that impairs your daily routine (relationships, professional functioning or other activities) or you may employ safety seeking strategies to control your anxiety ( e.g. bring a friend with you wherever you go).
Social anxiety is maintained by exaggerated self- focus, which means that under the threat of rejection, you focus on your own anxiety symptoms, attending to mental images that are primarily negative and not necessarily realistic. The safety seeking and avoidance behaviours that you are probably engaging in, although may have a seemingly alleviating effect to your anxiety, are key maintaining factors of social anxiety disorder. Therefore, in treatment, we aim at shaping collaboratively with you a model regarding the processess that maintain social anxiety by analyzing facts, thoughts and feelings. We also attempt to challenge negative thoughts while helping you to gradually abandon behaviours that prolong the problem (eg, avoidance of social situations), through ‘experiments’, in which you can maintain a sense of security.