What is Social Phobia?

Are you afraid of being judged by others or of being embarrassed all the time? Do you feel extremely fearful and unsure around other people most of the time? Do these worries make it hard for you to do everyday tasks like run errands, or talk to people at work or school?

If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder.

Social phobia is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things.

Everyone has felt anxious or embarrassed at one time or another. For example, meeting new people or giving a public speech can make anyone nervous. People with social phobia worry about these and other things for weeks, before they even happen.

People with social phobia are afraid of doing common things in front of other people. For example, they might be afraid to sign a check in front of a cashier at the grocery store, or they might be afraid to eat or drink in front of other people, or use a public restroom. Most people who have social phobia know that they shouldn’t be as afraid as they are, but they can’t control their fear. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them. For some people, social phobia is a problem only in certain situations, while others have symptoms in almost any social situation.

Social phobia usually starts during youth. A doctor can tell that a person has social phobia if the person has had symptoms for at least 6 months. Without treatment, social phobia can last for many years or a lifetime.


Public speaking anyone?

According to a recent study of over 2,500 people in Florence, Italy, the most common fears that people report are social anxiety: speaking in public (90 percent), followed by entering a room in front of others (63 percent) and meeting strangers (47 percent). From the same study, 6.6 percent of people reported high levels of social anxiety that resulted in significant impairment and / or distress in their lives. The social anxiety was chronic, beginning around age 15 and developing until full-blown symptoms appeared in their late 20s. While studies typically show that social anxiety is responsive to treatment, there are some patients who experience a longer standing, perhaps more entrenched, problem that that is less responsive to treatment.

What are the signs and symptoms of social phobia?

People with social phobia tend to:

  • Be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
  • Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
  • Be very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • Stay away from places where there are other people
  • Have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • Blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
  • Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people.

What causes social phobia?

Social phobia sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety. By learning more about fear and anxiety in the brain, scientists may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role.

What is it like having social phobia?

“In school I was always afraid of being called on, even when I knew the answers. When I got a job, I hated to meet with my boss. I couldn’t eat lunch with my co-workers. I worried about being stared at or judged, and worried that I would make a fool of myself. My heart would pound and I would start to sweat when I thought about meetings. The feelings got worse as the time of the event got closer. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep or eat for days before a staff meeting.

I’m taking medicine and working with a counselor to cope better with my fears. I had to work hard, but I feel better. I’m glad I made that first call to my doctor”.


  • Social phobia involves a “marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur.”
  • Fears might be associated with most social situations related to public performance or social interactions, such as participating in small groups, meeting strangers, dating or playing sports.

Examples of symptoms

  • “I’ll look anxious and stupid.”
  • “People will think I’m weird.”
  • blushing
  • sweating
  • dry mouth
  • avoidance of social gatherings, parties, meetings
  • avoidance of public speaking

We are here to help you.
For more information on our services, or for help on deciding which of our team psychologists to choose, don’t hesitate to contact our clinic coordinator at 514-337-2473, ext. 0, and it is with great pleasure that we will discuss with you the psychological services we can offer you.

To learn more about psychological treatments for social phobia, click here.