Social anxiety is anxiety (emotional discomfort, fear, apprehension, or worry) about social situations, interactions with others, and being evaluated or scrutinized by other people. The difference between social anxiety and normal apprehension of social situations is that social anxiety involves an intense feeling of fear in social situations and especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which one will be watched or evaluated by others. The feeling of fear is so great that in these types of situations one may be so worried that he or she feels anxious just thinking about them and will go to great lengths to avoid them.
According to the US National Comorbidity Survey, social anxiety has a 12-month prevalence rate of 6.8%, placing it as the third most common mental disorder in the U.S. An estimated 19.2 million Americans and counting suffer from social anxiety disorder and it can occur at any time but most often it on-sets in adolescence, early adulthood, or even early childhood. Statistically it is also more common in women than in men.
It occurs for different reasons. Developmental social anxiety occurs early in childhood as a normal part of the development of social functioning, and is a stage that most children grow out of, but problem or chronic social anxiety may persist (perhaps unnoticed) until adolescence or may surface in adulthood. People vary in how often they experience social anxiety and in which kinds of situations.
Overcoming social anxiety depends on the person and the situation. In some cases it can be relatively easyâ€”just a matter of time for many individualsâ€”yet for some people social anxiety can become a very difficult, painful and even disabling problem that is chronic in nature. The reasons are unknown. Social anxiety can be related to shyness or anxiety disorders or other emotional or temperamental factors, but its exact nature is still the subject of research and theory and the causes may vary depending on the individual. Recovery from chronic social anxiety is possible in many cases, but usually only with some kind of therapy or sustained self-help or support group work.
A psychopathological (chronic and disabling) form of social anxiety is called social phobia or social anxiety disorder, and is a chronic problem that can result in a reduced quality of life. Standardized rating scales such as Social Phobia Inventory can be used for screening social anxiety disorder and measuring severity of social phobia. Overcoming social anxiety of this type can be very difficult without getting assistance from therapists, psychologists or support groups. Social anxiety can also be self-integrated and persistent for people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can also make the social anxiety harder to overcome, especially if ignored.