Social phobia: what is it and how to overcome it?

Do you feel extremely embarrassed when talking to people you don’t know? Do you feel very uncomfortable being around people most of the time? Do you mind speaking in public? Are these fears preventing you from doing your daily tasks or talking to other people at work or school?

If this happens to you often, you may be in pain 1 anxiety disorder called social phobia.

Social phobia: what is it?

This disorder is often confused with shynessBut not all shy people have a social phobia.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2011, 50% of adolescents suffer from shyness, but among these, only 12% meet the criteria for social phobia.

Social phobia is strong irrational fear of social interaction situations. For example, the person with social phobia experiences extreme anxiety about being judged by others, being the center of attention, the idea of ​​being criticized by other people, and even talking on the phone with others. ‘other people.

Social phobic people realize that they shouldn’t feel so bad about triggering situations, but they are unable to control their fear and anxiety. Moreover, they usually avoid the situations that cause the symptoms of this disorder because they are not able to resist the discomfort.

Among these individuals there are different degrees of trouble, And some people may experience the symptoms in certain social situations (specific social phobia), while others may experience the symptoms in all social situations (generalized social phobia).

the causes

Social phobia it usually starts in adolescence, And it is common for people who suffer from it to seek help only after ten years of symptoms. Like most phobias, the environment plays a key role in their learning.

Although some research indicates that social phobia may be due to a neurotransmitter mismatch (Especially serotonin), traumatic past experiences, being overprotected by family, or limited opportunities for social interaction are the most common causes of this phobia.


The symptomatology of social phobia is no different from that of other phobias, as individuals with social phobia exhibit anxiety symptoms and extreme fear in everyday social situations. They think they are watched and judged by everyone, And when they do things wrong, they are very ashamed. The fear and anxiety they feel is so intense that it interferes with their work, school, and other daily activities.

Additionally, other symptoms of social phobia include:

  • Reddening (erythrophobia)

  • Difficulty speaking
  • nausea
  • profuse sweating
  • tremors

As mentioned, people with this type of phobia they usually avoid situations that can cause discomfort and symptoms exhibited. These situations include:

  • Attend parties and other social gatherings
  • Eat, drink and write in public
  • To meet new people
  • Speaking in public
  • Using public toilets


The psychological treatment commonly used to treat social phobia is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as it helps and facilitates the understanding of the source of the problem and the development of new ways to resolve the feared situations or phobias. CBT focuses on training the patient to detect irrational thoughts and replace them with those that will improve their quality of life. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy also includes strategies of exposure to feared stimuli, in this way the patient experiences the irrationality of the phobia on his own.

Therefore, the most common treatment includes cognitive restructuring strategies, social skills training, relaxation, and exposure. It is important to understand that exposure is sufficient for a specific social phobia, but for generalized social phobia there are different intervention programs that include different strategies. Here are three of the most used programs (usually take advantage of the group format):

  • Group cognitive behavioral therapy from Heimberg et al. (1998): Cognitive restructuring, group behavioral tasks and exposure to real everyday situations.

  • Comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy by Davidson et al. (2004): Cognitive restructuring, behavioral group tasks and exposure to real everyday situations and training in social skills.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy from Clark et al. (1995): proposes an Individual Treatment Protocol more focused on cognitive aspects (interpretation of social situations, social action and risk, expectations, attention, etc.).

Bibliographical references:

  • Bravo, MA and Padrós, F., (2013) Explanatory models of social phobia: a cognitive-behavioral approach. Uaricha, 11 (24), 134-147.
  • Hermans, D. Vantseenwegen, D. and Craske, MG (2008). Fears and phobias: debates, future research and clinical implications. In MG Craske, Sr. Hermans and Vansteenwegen (Eds.), Fears and Phobias: From Basic Processes to Clinical Implications (pp. 257-264). Mexico: Modern Manual.
  • Torgrud, LJ, Walker, JR, Murray, L., Cox, BJ, Chartier, M. and Kjernisted, KD (2004). Perceived social support deficit associated with generalized social phobia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, 33 (2), 87-96.

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