Social Anxiety

Table of Contents

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder where you have a debilitating fear of being judged or humiliated in all interactions with other people. These interactions include, and are not limited to, speaking, eating, walking, indeed anything you do that another person can witness.

Dr Elaine Ryan

How does having social anxiety affect the person?

Social anxiety can severely limit your day to day life and reduce your opportunities, as you will probably be avoiding or limiting your social and work interactions.

I am updating this post in the middle of Covid-19 and want to highlight the social anxiety experienced during home working.

Zoom meetings remind me of the anxiety experienced during what is called ’round robin’ (pre coronavirus) where everyone in the meeting introduces themselves. I dreaded round robins and mentally rehearsed, my name is Elaine, and I’m a psychologist!

Virtual meetings are capable of producing anxiety

  • feeling apprehensive before the meeting,
  • not knowing when to speak,
  • finding it more difficult in the absence of clear body language and dealing with the millisecond delay that will exist in a virtual environment.

In trying to understand social anxiety, I find it useful to think of it in terms of having a

  • subjective experience
  • physiological response, and
  • a behavioural response

The subjective experience is how you experience the interaction, e.g. trying to pay attention to what others are saying while judging every word you say.

The physiological response is what goes on in your body; feeling anxious, dry mouth, palpitations.

Behavioural Response is what you do ( or don’t do). Maybe you excuse yourself early, or try not to say too much, or avoid the social interaction altogether.

How do I know if I have social phobia?

You may have experienced the following symptoms which led you to attend for assessment with a mental health professional.

Cognitive Symptoms

Faulty belief systems; you may have some or all of the following negative beliefs about yourself

  • I’m not good enough
    I’m worthless
    I’m a failure
  • Other people believe that I am worthless, stupid, not good enough

Avoidance of

  • Shopping
  • Presentations
  • Social interactions
  • Meeting new people or going/trying something new
  • Eye contact

What happens if I meet with a mental health professional?

Someone like myself, a psychologist or other mental health professional will undertake an assessment. The assessment consists of asking questions and you may be asked to complete some forms to help with diagnosis.

Criteria for diagnosis

Mental health professional use what is called The Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders shortened to DSM 5) to help with diagnosis.

According to DSM5 1 the criteria for social anxiety is as follows

  • Fear of anxiety about social situation where you are exposed to scrutiny
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the situation
  • Social encounters are avoided or endured with fear
  • Anxiety or avoidance experiences impacts on your daily life and functioning
  • The fear and anxiety has lasted at least six months
  • Another condition does not better explain the fear and anxiety.

How to overcome social anxiety

If you have been diagnosed with social anxiety, there are recommended treatment options to help you recover.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the recommended treatment to help you to overcome social anxiety.

Further reading


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.