Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as social phobia, is a major anxiety disorder characterized by fear of social scrutiny. Basically, if you have social anxiety disorder (SAD), you have the fear that you will be embarrassed or made fun of when you encounter groups of people, especially groups of people you do not know.
People with SAD tend to avoid social situations, and if they have to be exposed to social situations, they endure them with much anxiety. If you are not able to avoid the social situation, then you may resort to safety behaviors. These safety behaviors try to minimize the social contact so that you are not feeling so anxious. Let’s say you are at a party, so safety behaviors may include: not looking people in the eye; standing in a corner and avoiding contact; drinking alcohol to take the edge off; smoking a cigarette outside; or leaving the party early. So these safety behaviors actually make the anxiety worse, as they are considered avoidant behaviors.
Avoidant behaviors worsen the anxiety, as it does not give you a chance to see that the social interaction, although anxiety-provoking to begin with, is not that bad after all. In fact, after several social interactions with your co-workers or friends, you may even find yourself having some fun. Facing your fears allows you to see that the anxiety will eventually go away on its own, and you may eventually have fun with socializing. If you avoid social situations, you never get a chance to see that the anxiety goes away on its own eventually.
And it is not the actual social event that gives you the anxiety…it is your maladaptive, anxiety-provoking thoughts about the event that makes you feel anxious. So if you think you are out of place and you will make a fool of yourself with other people, then you will most likely have anxiety when in a social situation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses both the maladaptive thinking and the avoidant behaviors that contribute to the anxiety.