Some people may have a difficult time believing that social phobia is a disease and not simply one of many personality types. “Since when has shyness become something you see a doctor about?” people might wonder.
For decades, this was how many people, including health professionals, viewed social phobia. While it may at times be hard to determine where ordinary shyness stops and social phobia begins, mental health professionals have been gaining a new appreciation for how severely social anxiety can affect a person’s day-to-day living.
Consider how much of ordinary life requires being out and about at the store, post office, dry cleaners, workplace or out with friends at a movie theater, restaurant or party. Eliminate those occasions altogether from life, or fill them with unbearable anxiety, and living can turn painful.
In what can prove to be a dangerous way of coping, people with social phobia sometimes turn to alcohol or drugs. They are an estimated four times more likely than the general population to abuse alcohol. The use of alcohol or drugs may momentarily ease the nerves, but it can also develop into a dependency.
People with social phobia are at higher risk for dropping out of school, because the typical demands of an educational environment can seem overwhelming. There is the social scene of interacting with classmates, or the threat of being called upon to give an oral report. Additionally, tests can provoke disabling anxiety.
The world of work poses numerous challenges as well. The process of landing a job is wrought with requirements that many people with social phobia find troubling. Applying for work essentially is an invitation for an outsider to judge a person’s worthiness. It usually entails an employment interview, which often can prove to be more of a social rating than a job skill assessment. Having survived the hiring process, most will then be faced with relating to colleagues at the coffee cart, business lunch or team project. It is no wonder that in surveys, 90 percent of those with social phobia have said their disorder interfered significantly with occupational functioning.
People with social phobia are also more likely to be single. This comes as no real surprise, given the social hurdles involved in seeking and developing romantic relationships.