How to Overcome Social Phobias

Social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is a debilitating mental health condition that affects about 15 million Americans each year and is the third largest psychological illness in the world. People who suffer from social phobias feel anxious and self-conscious, and are afraid of being judged or feeling embarrassed in public and social settings. They live with such a constant, intense feeling of anxiety they may avoid certain places or events.

Unfortunately, physicians often misdiagnose social phobia as schizophrenia, depression, panic disorder, or personality disorder. Social phobia sufferers know their fears and thoughts are irrational, but feel anxious anyway. Their social phobias may co-exist with anxiety disorders or depression, and these individuals often live with physical symptoms such as racing heart, blushing, dry throat or mouth, trembling, and muscle twitches. Scientists suspect a chemical imbalance in the brain may cause social phobias, and heredity may play a role.

The good news is that you can overcome social phobias.

Traditional Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for social phobias. It's generally short term-lasting from 12 to 24 weeks-and includes two critical components: individual therapy and behavioral group therapy. If you suffer from social phobias, it's important to find a therapist who has experience treating this condition, and who offers behavioral group therapy specifically for social phobias. During CBT, patients learn coping skills and new ways of thinking to reduce or eliminate anxiety.

Sometimes physicians treat social phobias with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.

New Treatments

Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) allows patients to immerse themselves in very realistic, virtual social environments. With the help of a trained therapist, they learn adaptive behaviors and new thought patterns for coping. The goal is for patients to transfer these new skills to real-life settings. VRT helps people overcoming fear of flying and initial pilot studies find it also works well with social phobias.

Results from neuroimaging studies strongly suggest that anticipating anxiety in social phobia patients is related to a specific fear network in the brain. Infants who have inhibited temperaments tend to develop into children who avoid unfamiliar people, objects, or situations, a phenomenon researchers suspect is the fear network's response to novelty. These findings are significant because they lead to new treatments for social phobias. Recently, scientists have identified two medications that may be effective for treating social phobias: Venlafaxine, a type of antidepressant, and Pregabalin, which physicians currently use for anxiety disorders.


"Recent Developments in Research and Treatment for Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)." Current Opinion in Psychiatry 18(1) (2008): 51-4. Medscape Medical News. Web. 24 February 2005.

National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health. "Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)." Web. 31 August 2010.

Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association. "What Is Social Anxiety?" and "The Least Understood Anxiety Disorder." Web.