Fear of humiliation or embarrassment in one or more social situations.
Exposure to the feared situation almost always provokes anxiety.
The anxiety can involve any or all of these symptoms:
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath
Feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Nausea or abdominal distress
Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
Feeling of unreality or depersonalization
Fear of losing control or going crazy
Fear of dying
Numbness or tingling
Chills or hot flushes
The person recognizes that the fear is disproportionate to the situation.
The social situation(s) is avoided, or endured with intense anxiety or distress.
From one out of 5 to one out of 10 people will suffer from social anxiety at some point in their life. The fear of public speaking is most common.
People with social anxiety tend to worry about what others think of them.
They fear appearing stupid, nervous, weird, uninteresting, or simply as they are not, and are afraid of rejection or criticism.
An interesting paradox that often occurs in social anxiety is the feeling of being rather small but at the same time being the center of peoples’ universe: that others notice, evaluate, and remember every little thing said or done!
These thinking patterns are changed with cognitive re-structuring techniques.
As for most anxiety disorders, the most common and problematic behavior is avoidance.
Avoidance can take different shapes: avoiding the situation altogether or avoiding interacting in the situation, avoiding visual contact or avoiding saying much, over-preparing, or staying with a “safe” companion.
The treatment involves systematic desensitization such that the socially anxious person gradually learns to be calm in the situations that are associated with anxiety.
Selected Book References
10 simple solutions to shyness.
Martin Anthony (2004).
New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 1-57224-348-1
Painfully shy: How to overcome social anxiety and reclaim your life.
Barbara Markway & Gregory Markway (2001).
St-Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-31623-2