Social Anxiety (Social Phobia)

Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia is a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations.

It is a common problem that can start during teenage years. For some people it can get better as they get older, however for many it doesn’t go away on its own.
It can be very distressing and have a big impact on your life, but there are ways to help you deal with it.
The symptoms of social anxiety is more than just shyness. It is an intense fear that doesn’t go away and affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life.
A lot of people occasionally worry about social situations, but someone with social anxiety feels overly worried before, during and after them.

You may have social anxiety if you…

  • dread everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping
  • avoid or worry a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with company, and parties
  • always worry about doing something you think is embarrassing, such as blushing, sweating or appearing incompetent
  • find it difficult to do things when others are watching – you may feel like you’re being watched and judged all the time
  • fear criticism, avoid eye contact or have low self-esteem
  • often have symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
  • have panic attacks (where you have an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, usually only for a few minutes)

When should you seek help for social anxiety?


A lot of people with social anxiety also have other mental health issues, like depression, generalised anxiety disorder or body dysmorphic disorder.
It is a good idea to see your Doctor if you think you have social anxiety, especially if it’s having a big impact on your life.
It’s a common problem and there are treatments that can help.
Sometimes asking for help can be difficult, but your Doctor will be aware that many people struggle with social anxiety and will try to put you at ease.
Your Doctor will ask you about your feelings, behaviours and symptoms to understand about your anxiety in social situations.
If they think you could have social anxiety, they will refer you to a mental health specialist to have a full assessment and talk about treatments.

You can also refer yourself directly for psychological (talking) therapies on the NHS without seeing your GP.

The main options are…

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with a therapist, this is a therapy that helps you identify negative thought patterns and behaviours, and change them.
  • guided self-help, this involves working through a CBT-based workbook or online course with regular support from a therapist.
  • antidepressant medication – usually a type of medicine called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as citalopram or sertraline.

You need to find the treatment that works best for you. 

More options are…

There are several charities, support groups and online forums for people with social anxiety and other anxiety disorders, including…


Social anxiety can also affect children.
Signs of social anxiety in a child include…

  • crying more than usual
  • having frequent tantrums
  • avoiding interaction with other children and adults
  • fear of going to school or taking part in classroom activities, school performances, and social events
  • not asking for help at school
  • being very reliant on their parents or carer

Speak to your Doctor if you have concerns about your child…


Your Doctor will ask you about your child’s problems and talk to them about how they feel.
Treatments for social anxiety in children are similar to those for teenagers and adults, although medication isn’t generally used.
Therapy is tailored to your child’s age and will often involve help from you (you may be given training and self-help materials to use between sessions). It may also take place in a small group.

The following tips may help…

  • try to understand more about your anxiety, think about what you think and how you behave in certain social situations to help you get a clearer idea of the problems you want to tackle.
  • try to replace your unrealistic beliefs with more rational ones eg if you feel a social situation didn’t go well, think if there are any facts to support this or if you’re just assuming the worst.
  • try not to think too much about how others see you, instead focus on other people and remember that your anxiety symptoms aren’t as obvious as you might think.
  • do activities that you would normally avoid, this can be hard at first so start with small goals and work towards more feared activities gradually.

Self help alone probably won't cure your social anxiety, but it could reduce it and you might find it a useful first step before trying other treatments.