What Is Social Phobia vs Social Anxiety?
Are you wondering what the difference is between social phobia vs social anxiety? While you might imagine that these are two different things, they are actually just two different names for the same issue.
Social phobia was the name used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until the release of DSM-IV in 1994. Social anxiety disorder is now the official term, to reflect the concept that it can affect every area of life rather than just being a phobia of specific social or performance situations.
If you’re curious to know more about how the terminology evolved or what the official DSM criteria are (were) for each diagnosis, I’ll outline all of this below as well as try to answer other related questions you might have.
Social Phobia vs. Social Anxiety: What’s the Difference?
As noted above, there really is no difference between these terms. Social anxiety or social phobia are simply the different terms employed by mental health professionals over time.
Social Anxiety Disorder is now considered to be the more accurate term for this condition, but it’s not really that big of a change from what was once known as social phobia.
However, there are some subtle differences of which you should be made aware.
For interest’s sake, I decided to put together a table that shows you everything you need to know about the change.
Up until 1993, social phobia was used to diagnose a fear of performance situations. Meanwhile, avoidant personality disorder was used as the diagnosis for those who had a broader fear of social situations.
Then, as of 1993, social anxiety disorder was the term that was introduced and used to refer to a broader range of social fears. As you can see from the table below about social phobia vs social anxiety, there are many similarities but also differences between the two terms.
|Social Phobia||Social Anxiety Disorder|
|Date Introduced||DSM-III (1980)||DSM-IV (1993)|
|Scope||Fear of performance situations only (e.g., delivering a speech, eating in public, using restrooms, signing your name in front of people, musical performances). Fear and anxiety is more severe than just being nervous.||Broad fear of social and/or performance situations (e.g., interactions with strangers, job interviews, supermarket checkout, talking on the phone). Includes feelings of insecurity or self-consciousness.|
|Symptoms||Dizziness, sweating, shaking, blushing, racing heartbeat, constricted breathing, muscle tension, stomach pain, stumbling speech, mental blocks. Feelings of paranoia, low self-esteem, feelings of being judged, overthinking situations, rumination.||Includes all of the symptoms listed for social phobia. In addition, feelings of intense shame and avoidance.|
When Did Social Phobia Become Social Anxiety Disorder?
If you’re confused exactly when the diagnosis of social phobia became social anxiety disorder, then you’re not alone. This subtle change in terminology has caused more than a little bit of confusion, I’m sure.
The term social phobia was replaced with the term social anxiety disorder with the introduction of the fourth edition of the DSM in 1993.
As noted in the table above, this wasn’t just a simple shift in the wording of the diagnosis. Prior to 1993, if you were being diagnosed for social anxiety, you’d probably have either been diagnosed with social phobia (if you had a specific phobia of doing certain things in public) or with avoidant personality disorder (if you had a more general pattern of fear and avoidance related to social situations).
As of 1993, your diagnosis would have been social anxiety disorder, but with a specifier as to whether your fears were specific (e.g., just public speaking) or more general (fear of a range of types of social situations).
Is Social Anxiety Just Shyness?
In addition to the confusion regarding the difference between the terms social phobia vs social anxiety, I know there is also sometimes confusion about what the difference is between shyness and social anxiety.
In general, social anxiety is more than just shyness. Social anxiety involves a level of fear and avoidance that goes beyond simply feeling shy around people or taking a long time to warm up.
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The video below is a really good explanation not only of how the term social phobia was replaced with social anxiety disorder but also how to know whether you are just nervous and shy around people or you might have a deeper problem with social anxiety.
I’ve also written another post all about the differences between shyness and social anxiety if you’re interested in reading more on that topic.
What Are Examples of Social Phobias?
Social phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder and affect around 13% of the population. Social phobias can be divided into two main types: general and specific.
General social phobia is the fear of social situations in which you might become humiliated, embarrassed, anxious or turn out to be unconfident. Generally speaking, people who have this type of social phobia are afraid of many, if not all social situations.
Specific social phobias are the fear of specific social situations which can be about anything from eating in front of others to dating or writing in public.
Some examples of social phobias include glossophobia, enochlophobia, scopophobia, erythrophobia, and telephonophobia.
Below are more details on each of these phobias.
1) Glossophobia (the fear of public speaking): Public speaking is one of the most common fears in people. According to studies, around 75% of adults experience anxiety when thinking about doing things in front of groups such as giving a presentation or telling jokes.
2) Enochlophobia (fear of crowds): People with enochlophobia may fear crowded public places such as malls or concerts.
3) Scopophobia (fear of being the center of attention): People with scophobia may fear engaging in tasks that require them to be the center of attention, such as being interviewed by a reporter or performing on stage.
4) Erythrophobia (fear of blushing): People with erythrophobia may fear being in social situations where they will blush, such as meeting strangers or talking to people they just met.
5) Telephonophobia (fear of using the telephone): People with telephonophobia may be afraid of making phone calls for a variety of reasons.
How Do You Know You Have Social Anxiety?
Are you wondering if you have social anxiety? If you identify with a lot of what I’ve talked about with respect to social phobia and social anxiety, you might be wondering if this applies to you.
If you have social anxiety, you typically experience intense fear and discomfort in a variety of social situations. You may even find yourself avoiding those social interactions as a result of your fears.
Your fear can be so overwhelming that it impacts your life significantly; if this is the case, it’s important to seek help from a professional.
However, there are some warning signs that may indicate you have social anxiety:
- You often feel very self-conscious about what others think of you, and this can cause feelings of nervousness and discomfort in most any situation. This fear of judgment also includes things like stage fright or public speaking.
- You avoid public places or activities because of severe anxiety.
- You feel stressed out by even small interactions, like meeting new people or casual conversation.
- This fear often comes with physical symptoms, which can include sweating profusely, nausea, trembling and stuttering. You may also experience changes in your breathing patterns during social interactions.
- You know that your fear is out of proportion to the actual threat of social interaction, but you still find it difficult to overcome.
- You may avoid certain activities in order to “stay safe,” like avoiding parties or places with crowds. This avoidance often extends past high school years and into adulthood.
- You worry about being judged by others for your appearance, speech, behavior or reasoning skills during conversations. This makes it hard for you to get through each day. You may have few or no close friends or social interactions outside of your family circle.
- You’ve relied on that one person (usually a parent, partner or spouse) for most of your friendship and relationship needs. These relationships often lack reciprocity.
- Your fear is also triggered in anticipation of events in which you need to be the center of attention .
- You’ve experienced traumatic events, belittlement or teasing during childhood. These instances carry over into adulthood and contribute to your social anxiety.
It’s also important to note that many introverts suffer from social anxiety at one point in their lives. This means you may feel comfortable talking to friends, but then more anxious around people you don’t know very well.
These are just some of the signs of potential social anxiety. It’s important to remember the issue is complicated. While you may experience all of these things, it’s not necessarily always social anxiety at play, but other concerns may also be present.
Is It Possible to Have Mild Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety exists on a spectrum, from those who can’t bear social events to those who only feel anxious in certain situations.
It’s possible to have mild social anxiety that does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.
A small amount of anxiety about social situations is not the same as clinical social phobia (social anxiety disorder) which can be extremely limiting. However, many people still find that they would like to feel more comfortable in certain social situations.
If you experience mild social anxiety, it may be worth trying some of the things described below.
1. Identify the situations that make you anxious and work on coping strategies. Learn to recognize when you are feeling anxious. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings when you’re feeling anxious. Keep a journal to track what triggers your anxiety, how it makes you feel, and what helps reduce the symptoms.
2. Practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to calm down before an anxiety-inducing event. Find a safe place where you can go if your anxiety becomes overwhelming.
3. Find a good friend or family member who will be supportive of you during your anxiety attack. Talk with friends about their anxieties and how they deal with them, this may help you find new ways of coping.
4. Take care of yourself: eat healthy, exercise, drink lots of water, get enough sleep, don’t overdo it with alcohol or caffeine.
5. Try not to compare yourself to others: everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, it’s okay if yours happens to be social interactions. And, realize that everyone gets a little nervous in social situations even if they pretend to be fine.
6. Seek professional help if needed: see your doctor or therapist for more information about treatment options for mild social anxiety.
In summary, the difference between social phobia vs social anxiety is simply a matter of different terms being used at different times. Generally speaking, social phobia was the term used in the first DSM (from 1980) and then social anxiety disorder was used in subsequent DSMs. The term “social anxiety” is often used to refer to both concepts more generally.
What about you? Have you experienced social anxiety? How did you feel and what did you do about it? Do you think your social anxiety has ever prevented you from achieving something? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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