Being nervous in some social situations can be normal, as it is sometimes a natural response to public speaking, dating, or similar situations. However, when everyday interactions cause a lot of anxiety, embarrassment, insecurity, and intense fear for the opinions of others, the person may suffer from social phobia (social anxiety disorder).

In this article we’ll see how to recognize social phobia , and what to do.

How to detect social phobia?

Social phobia affects us physically and mentally, and the fear and anxiety is disabling for the person, since it affects him/her in different areas of his/her life (work, social, personal).

We speak of phobia when the intensity with which the person experiences fear is unjustified, disproportionate and reduces the person’s capacity for action, causing emotional blockage.

Marta Garrido González, psychologist specialized in psychologists Málaga Psicoabreu, points out that people who suffer from social phobia are aware that their feelings are irrational but, in spite of this, they do their best to avoid facing the feared situation as a consequence of anticipatory anxiety.

Thus, long before the person has to face the feared situation he or she already starts to suffer from anxiety because he or she cannot stop thinking about it .

Anticipation can cause the subject to act inappropriately, even entering a vicious circle, as it will cause greater fear for future situations. This fear has to interfere significantly in your life in order to establish this diagnosis.

Difference between social phobia and shyness

Social anxiety disorder is different from shyness, since shy people are able to participate in social situations (even if they are embarrassed or nervous), and people who have social phobia are incapable, most of the time isolating themselves from the people around them.

Thus, the characteristics of shyness are as follows:

  • Intensity and duration is proportional to the stimulus that has caused it.
  • The anxiety gradually disappears.
  • Acceptance and learning.

Here is an example:

A student has to present a work she has done in front of all her classmates. This situation generates stress and nerves, since she is afraid that it will go wrong, that she will forget what she had to expose, etc. It is a rational and expected fear, since it is a situation that the person does not normally carry out, and has no practice (a cause that generates more nervousness).

The characteristics of social phobia, on the other hand, are as follows:

  • Concern about becoming the center of attention .
  • Fear of eating and drinking in public.
  • Fear of speaking to the public, of talking to a friend.
  • Fear of embarrassing situations in front of an audience.
  • Intensity and duration in time.
  • It affects the areas of your life .

An example of social phobia might be the following:

In the previous case; let’s imagine that the person keeps his negative thoughts longer, leading him to lose his self-confidence, to have the feeling of failure and constant discomfort.

The fear is excessive and irrational and the person tends to avoid social interactions (anxious anticipation infers in the normal functioning of the individual). The anxiety response of the person can lead to a crisis of distress, so that he or she avoids the feared situation or even blocks himself or herself (not being able to develop the exposure).


People with social phobia show extreme anxiety in social situations. It is a persistent and chronic fear that causes symptoms on a physical, cognitive and behavioral level. This phobia may appear because of a certain situation or it may arise in the interaction with all those people you do not know .

Physical symptoms of anxiety

These are a common characteristic of people who suffer from social phobia. A high percentage of patients present palpitations, dizziness, fainting, heart attacks, trembling of hands, feet or voice , dry mouth, stuttering, sweating in hands and body, and flushing (anxiety and embarrassment). Suffering from very high levels of anxiety can lead to panic attacks.

The psychologists of the Psicoabreu team state that the physical symptoms are what lead people to come to the consultations in search of psychological therapy .

Cognitive symptoms

These are recurring thoughts that one will not be able to speak, of inferiority, shame, lack of concentration (forgetting what we wanted to say). Anticipation (imagining what is going to happen), self-critical thoughts (I look silly, I am making a fool of myself, etc.).

Emotional and behavioral symptoms

The most noteworthy are loss of self-confidence , social isolation, inability to participate in social situations, and avoiding feared situations.


People suffering from social phobia feel an irrational fear of situations in which they may be judged by others , so they avoid them. This anxiety disorder may start in adolescence and usually affects men and women in the same proportion.

As with many mental disorders, social phobia arises from the interaction of biological and environmental factors.


Anxiety disorders often run in families, at least in part (both genetic and acquired behaviors)

Structure of the brain

The amygdalin nucleus can influence the fear response . Thus, people who have this hyperactive nucleus may suffer an exaggerated fear response (causing increased anxiety in social situations).


Social phobia can be an acquired behavior . There may be a learning relationship of children copying episodes of anxiety suffered by their parents. In addition, some people have anxiety after going through unpleasant and uncomfortable social situations.

Risk factors

Several factors may increase the risk of social anxiety disorder:

1. Family history

If your parents or biological siblings have social anxiety disorder , you are more likely to have it

2. Negative experiences

Children who experience rejection, ridicule, or humiliation may be more likely to develop social anxiety disorder.

3. Character

Shy, introverted people when facing situations may be at greater risk.

4. Have an attention-grabbing appearance

For example, stuttering or facial disfigurement may increase shyness and cause social anxiety disorder in some people.

Types of social phobia

There are two types of this anxiety disorder.

Widespread social phobia

It is suffered by those people who experience high levels of anxiety in the vast majority of social situations and in interaction with people.

Specific social phobia

It develops when situations of anxiety only appear at certain times (fear of being observed while eating or drinking, speaking in public, writing in front of others,…)

Psychological treatment

The team of psychologists of the psychology offices Psicólogos Málaga PsicoAbreu is specialized in the psychological treatment of social anxiety disorders and social phobia. The psychological therapy is aimed at the patient losing the fear of certain situations and recovering his social life .

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to identify, understand and change the thoughts that cause the phobia. In some situations, drug treatment (anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications) is necessary to relieve symptoms of anxiety along with psychological treatment.

Bibliographic references:

  • Chambless, D. L.; Fydrich, T.; Rodebaugh, T. L. (2008). “Generalized social phobia and avoidant personality disorder: Meaningful distinction or useless duplication? Depression and Anxiety. 25 (1): 8 – 19.