Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by excessive self-consciousness bordering on terror in everyday social situations. There is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. This is sometimes accompanied by physical symptoms such as blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, difficulty talking, and a panicky need to run (agoraphobia). Obviously, the individual with SAD seeks to minimize these very unpleasant feelings by restricting social contacts, which can lead to a life of avoidance and confinement.
Severe social anxiety can begin at any age, but onset is most common in childhood or early adolescence. It occurs equally among males and females, and affects as many as 15 million American adults. Even when confronting their fears by entering a party or gathering, people with SAD feel very anxious beforehand, are intensely uncomfortable during the encounter, and obsess about how they appeared to others for hours afterward.
Effective psychotherapy for SAD typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy, usually augmented with anti-anxiety medication. A technique called “progressive desensitization” (aka “exposure therapy) may also be used (this involves incremental tolerance of contact with people). Other therapy approaches include “stress innoculation” (rehearsal of the event and response), self-calming and relaxation methods, and hypnosis.