Social Phobia

Social Phobia at the University

Meeting new people and developing friendships is an important part of college. Many people experience some degree of nervousness or awkwardness in relating with unfamiliar people such as professors, classmates, students in the dorm and other acquaintances. They may consider themselves to be “shy.” But we now know that many “shy” people actually have “Social Phobia”, or “Social Anxiety Disorder.” Individuals who struggle with Social Anxiety Disorder experience a level of anxiety and fear about social situations that goes beyond minor or temporary feelings of discomfort.

Most people who have Social Anxiety Disorder feel that their fears of social situations are just a part of who they are, and that they can’t change the way they feel. But Social Anxiety Disorder is a condition, and can be helped.

Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. These increased sense of anxiety could be experienced in just one type of situation — during class, eating with others, going to the bar — or could be experienced almost anytime they are around other people. But there are things that one can do to help themselves or to support others that they are concerned about.

Social phobia vs. shyness

Is Social Anxiety Disorder the same as shyness? The short answer is “No, it’s much worse.” Social Anxiety Disorder is a kind of extreme shyness: extreme to the point of avoiding social situations and causing disruption to social and professional relationships.

For example, if you get the jitters before making a speech or presentation, that’s considered pretty normal. If you call in sick to avoid making the presentation, that’s a clue that your anxiety exceeds normal levels. The shy guy might be too nervous to ask someone to dance at a party, but the person with Social Anxiety Disorder, sure that everyone will decide his clothes are uncool and that he’ll spill a drink on himself, will skip the party altogether.

A person with Social Phobia might fail to attend the first meeting of a class or conference because she knows she’ll be asked to introduce herself. Another might worry all week about a weekly team meeting at work, deathly afraid that he’ll be required to describe what he’s working on or even answer a question. Some people with Social Anxiety Disorder find it difficult to pick up a phone and call the cable company (what if the person on the other end thinks her request is stupid?), stand in line at the supermarket (he knows people aren’t really staring at him, but he feels as if they are), or simply walk down the street (what if she has to talk to someone?).


Many people who struggle with Social Anxiety Disorder avoid seeking psychological treatment. The symptoms of the disorder lead SAD sufferers to fear many interpersonal situations, including counseling. This is unfortunate, asSAD can be effectively treated with therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication.

When to Seek Help

If you feel trapped, behind in your school work, stuck, and you want more information or just to talk to someone about how to help yourself or a friend you can call:

1-888-88-ANXIETY (1-888-826-9438). It is a free call.

Or, for information and support closer to you, please visit the counseling center nearest you.