Social phobia, sometimes referred to as social anxiety, is the most common of the anxiety disorders. It is estimated that more than 12% of the population will experience social phobia at some time during their life. The most common feature of social phobia is the persistent fear of being judged, or otherwise scrutinized, in one or more situations resulting in humiliation or embarrassment. The symptoms associated with social phobia may include, blushing or feeling flush, nausea, sweating, trembling difficulty in breathing, rapid heart rate, and difficulty in speaking. The fear that one may speak, appear, or otherwise behave in an inappropriate manner may have a negative effect on many, if not all, aspects of a person’s life. For many this fear can become so overwhelming that they are unable to engage in everyday activities such as shopping, work, school, or social events. Although little is known about the causes of social phobia much is known about the treatment. Research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has higher than average success rates in treating social phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on cognitive distortions which are at the root of self-defeating, self- deprecating, thoughts and behaviors. Learning to recognize such thoughts as irrational, in conjunction with relaxation techniques and in session rehearsals, comprise the core of this treatment protocol. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the many tools I use when working with patients who experience phobias.
Fear, as a response to a real world threat, is a good thing. As a survival mechanism fear helps us to stay alive by retreating from threatening or dangerous situations or by avoiding them altogether. When we experience an irrational fear, as a result of an otherwise harmless object or situation, it is called phobia or specific phobia. Although there are hundreds of known phobias there are five general categories: Animal Type: Includes fear of domestic pets; farm animals; wildlife; rodents, reptiles including snakes; and insects. Natural Environmental Type: Includes fear of heights; storms; lightning; thunder; aging; germs; and disease. Situational Type: Includes fear of confined spaces; darkness. Blood / Injection Type: Includes fear of medical procedures; needles; blood; and blood producing injuries. Other Type: Includes fear of clowns and other costumed characters; gnomes; and loud sounds. Please note that this list is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. An internet search for phobias yields extensive lists of hundreds of known phobias (e.g. http://phobialist.com/ ). There are two features shared by all phobias. The first is the physical response. All phobias fall under the heading of Anxiety Disorders. As with other anxiety disorders symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
- abnormal breathing (panting, trying to catch your breath)
- accelerated heartbeat
- hot flushes or chills
- a sensation of choking
- chest pains, chest tightness
- butterflies in the stomach
- pins and needles
- dry mouth
- confusion and disorientation
The second feature shared by phobias is the negative impact they can have on our lives. Those who suffer from phobias often go to great lengths to avoid situations which may trigger a phobic response. Such avoidance can impede our ability to live a happy, productive, and fulfilling life. If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty functioning at work, home school, or other settings, as a result of a phobia it may be wise to seek assistance. Fortunately, phobias generally respond favorably to treatment. In working with phobias I employ clinically validated techniques including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and relaxation skills. If you are struggling with any type of phobia please feel free to contact me to learn more about what can be done to alleviate your distress.
(Jennifer Anne Blair, All rights reserved, 2014)