What Is Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)?

Social anxiety is normal in some situations but people with social anxiety disorder, social phobia, feel anxiety out-of-proportion with the situation.

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is intense anxiety associated with social or performance-related situations. Social anxiety disorder is more than just social anxiety: When a feared situation is encountered, a person with social anxiety disorder will experience panic-like symptoms. The good news is there is treatment for social phobia that works and many learn how to manage their symptoms. (If you are concerned about having SAD, take our social anxiety disorder test. Social phobia help info here.)

Social Anxiety Disorder Facts

Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness and is defined in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It may occur in any age group and affects more women than men. Mutism, an inability or unwillingness to speak in certain situations, can accompany social anxiety disorder but this is more often seen in children. The illness is also considered a precursor to agoraphobia; where the phobic symptoms are often generalized to many, if not all, public spaces.1

About 9% of youth and 12% of adults experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. It commonly occurs with other types of anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders. It also frequently occurs in autistic spectrum disorders.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is very common and is the feeling of fear and anxiety associated with social situations. People with social anxiety are typically afraid of public embarrassment. Someone with social anxiety may experience distress related to:2

  • Public speaking
  • Eating publically
  • Using public restrooms
  • Meeting new people

Social anxiety may be specific to a single situation, such as meeting new people, developing relationships, or generalized to social situations overall. Simply experiencing social anxiety though doesn't mean you have social anxiety disorder or a social phobia.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, aka social phobia, is considered a phobic disorder - a type of anxiety disorder. Social anxiety becomes a disorder when the symptoms rise to the level that meets the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-IV-TR. Part of this diagnosis means that the symptoms of social anxiety are so severe as to markedly impact day-to-day activities.

Some of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:3

  • Fear of situations in which you might be judged
  • Worrying about being embarrassed or humiliated
  • Worry that interferes with work, school or home life
  • Avoiding the things that bring anxiety

People with social anxiety disorder experience fear or anxiety that is out of proportion with the situation. People with social phobia fear this anxiety and are highly distressed by it. Severe performance anxiety, such as when taking a test, is another form of social phobia.

While no one knows what causes social anxiety disorder, it often begins after a person with a history of shyness has a particularly humiliating experience in public.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 21). What Is Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Last Updated: January 6, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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