Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario

Social Anxiety/Social Phobia

Social phobia, also described as social anxiety, involves exposure to social situations, especially situations that involve some form of ‘performing’. This provokes an immediate anxiety response that may include palpitations, tremors, sweating, gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, muscle tension, blushing, or confusion. This may escalate to a panic attack.


People with social phobias report feeling terrified of being criticized or judged harshly by others. School phobias are a common expression of social anxiety in children and youth. Many individuals with social phobia find it difficult or impossible to speak in public, make presentations, eat in public, and initiate conversations.

Individuals with social phobia experience a significant and persistent fear of ‘performing’ and acting in a way that will be embarrassing. They experience an anxious response, possibly including a panic attack, when they are placed in the feared social/performance situation. As a result of this, they avoid those situations. The person’s avoidance of the feared situations interferes with their day-to-day functioning (e.g. interpersonal relationships, school, work). Adults with social phobia do recognize that their response is excessive. Children with social phobia, like children with specific phobias, may not understand that their fears are ungrounded.

References: Rachman, S. (2004) Anxiety (2nd ed). New York: Psychology Press Ltd