Health A to Z
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations.
It's a common problem that usually starts during the teenage years. For some people it gets better as they get older, although 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.
This page covers:
Social anxiety is more than shyness. It's an intense fear that doesn't go away and affects everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life.
Many 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:
It's a good idea to see your GP 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.
Asking for help can be difficult, but your GP will be aware that many people struggle with social anxiety and will try to put you at ease.
Your GP will ask you about your feelings, behaviours and symptoms to find out about your anxiety in social situations.
If they think you could have social anxiety, you'll be referred to a mental health specialist to have a full assessment and talk about treatments.
Social anxiety can be difficult to deal with, but there are things you can try yourself, as well as several effective treatments and support groups that can help you.
Self-help probably won't cure your social anxiety, but it may reduce it and you might find it a useful first step before trying other treatments.
The following tips may help:
You may find it useful to read an NHS self-help guide for social anxiety (PDF, 466kb) for more detail. You can also listen to a helpful podcast about controlling anxiety from a leading anxiety specialist.
A number of treatments are also available for social anxiety.
The main options are:
CBT is generally considered the best treatment, but other treatments may help if it doesn't work or you don't want to try it. Some people need to try a combination of treatments.
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:
Speak to your GP if you're worried about your child. Your GP 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 normally used.
Therapy will be 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.