Social Anxiety and Social Phobia: What's the Difference?

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Have a look at the following two statements and try to decide whether one or both are examples of social anxiety or social phobia:


    Jake is 30 years of age. He’s had a couple of girlfriends but nothing that really lasted too long. Whenever an attractive girl speaks to Jake he feels self-conscious. He struggles to find things to say, stumbles over his words and blushes. It’s easier and less embarrassing for him to make his excuses and walk away.


    Sue is articulate and intelligent but outside of her immediate family she keeps people at a social distance. Sue is actually concerned that if she let’s people get too close they will see through her – and not like what they see. She feels sad about her situation but she has also become very adept at keeping a low profile and avoiding attention

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    Jake and Sue are experiencing what is known as a social phobia. A social phobia is really an extension of social anxieties that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. So when does social anxiety become a phobia? The fact that the lives of both Jake and Sue are affected is a prominent feature. If we could speak to Jake or Sue we’d also learn they worry a lot about doing or saying something embarrassing and that they feel others are judging them. It makes them feel worried, self-conscious and inadequate.


    Social anxiety is so common that sometimes the distinction between it and a phobia is hard to determine. For people with the more extreme forms of social anxiety there is an implication for treatment; this being that no form of treatment can ever get rid of social anxiety. So, the aims of treatment focus on helping people feel less distressed and preventing anxiety disrupting their lives.


    Social anxiety and social phobia seems to affect men and women equally. Shyness is certainly a recognized feature of childhood and social anxiety is perhaps just an extension or more extreme version of this. By the time we reach adolescence our level of self-consciousness can be quite high. As adults we can see social anxiety manifest itself in various forms. During a social encounter some people chatter away nervously and then calm down, others are more reserved and like to take stock before they warm up. We’ve seen them all, the outgoing, the exotic, the shy-and-retiring, the frosty and judgmental, the cynical, and so on. Many of these social mechanisms are put forward as a defense or a way in which we’d like to see ourselves portrayed.


    When it comes down to it you may find that you’re okay in some situations but not others. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s defined as an anxiety or a phobia. What counts is the effect it’s having on you. If you feel held back or distressed perhaps this is reason enough to change the situation. This is something I’ll be addressing in my next post.

Published On: June 18, 2014