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Social anxiety is a discomfort or a fear when a person is in social interactions that involve a concern about being judged or evaluated by others. It is typically characterized by an intense fear of what others are thinking about them (specifically fear of embarrassment, criticism, or rejection), which results in the individual feeling insecure, not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that peers will automatically reject them. Developmental social anxiety occurs early in childhood as a normal part of the development of social functioning, and is a stage that most children grow out of, but it may persist or resurface and grow into chronic social anxiety. People vary in how often they experience social anxiety and in which kinds of situations.
A psychopathological (chronic and disabling) form of social anxiety is called social phobia or social anxiety disorder, and is a chronic problem that can result in a reduced quality of life. It is approximated that roughly 40 million American adults ages 18 and older (18.1%) have an anxiety disorder. The difference between social anxiety and normal apprehension of social situations is that social anxiety involves an intense feeling of fear in social situations and especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which one will be watched or evaluated by others. The feeling of fear is extremely intense in these types of situations, occasionally causing one to become so worried that he or she feels anxious just thinking about them and will go to great lengths to avoid them.
Overcoming social anxiety depends on the person and the situation. In some cases it can be relatively easy—just a matter of time for many individuals—yet for some people social anxiety can become a very difficult, painful and even disabling problem that is chronic in nature. The reasons are unknown. Social anxiety can be related to shyness or anxiety disorders or other emotional or temperamental factors, but its exact nature is still the subject of research and theory and the causes may vary depending on the individual. Recovery from chronic social anxiety is possible in many cases, but usually only with some kind of therapy or sustained self-help or support group work.
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