Social Phobia and Public Speaking Anxiety
Section Author: Bethany A. Teachman (University of Virginia)
Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, reflects intense and persistent fear in social or performance situations where embarrassment or negative evaluation by others can occur. This disorder is quite common (up to 13% estimated lifetime prevalence), and leads to significant impairment because socially anxious individuals may avoid a broad range of situations where they fear they will be socially inept and/or scrutinized by others. Commonly feared situations include social gatherings, such as parties, as well as dating, initiating conversations, and interacting with persons in positions of authority. In some cases, the situations are endured with extreme distress (rather than avoided), even leading to panic attacks. Importantly, adults with this disorder must recognize that their fears are excessive or unreasonable. While some social anxiety and shyness are normative, individuals who meet criteria for social phobia experience these fears more frequently and intensely, such that they interfere with occupational or academic functioning, social activities or relationships. Some individuals with social phobia have impaired social skills, but this is not necessarily the case. Further, while some individuals fear almost all social situations (known as Generalized subtype), others fear only a single or a few performance and interpersonal situations.
Public speaking fear is a particular form of social anxiety, which typically involves concerns that the audience will think that one's performance is inadequate (e.g., fears the audience will think the speaker is stupid, boring, appears overly anxious, etc.). Given that public speaking fears are extremely common and normative, it is critical that the fears be excessive relative to the general population and that they interfere with normal routines or significantly impair functioning in order to meet diagnostic criteria.
- Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies (strong research support)
Note: Other psychological treatments may also be effective in treating Social Phobia and Public Speaking Anxiety, but they have not been evaluated with the same scientific rigor as the treatments above. Many medications may also be helpful for Social Phobia and Public Speaking Anxiety, but we do not cover medications in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your therapist.