Social phobia is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. Individuals with social phobia believe that others are scrutinized them and this frequently leads to anxiety, which in turn may lead to panic-like symptoms including heart palpitations, faintness, shortness of breath, and excessive sweating. Whether or not they have panic reactions, people with social phobia generally expend considerable energy avoiding feared situations.
The central fear of social phobia is embarrassment over the way one might act and the anxiety generally is triggered by specific social circumstances. The most common social phobia is anxiety over public speaking. Other types of social phobias may include such routine activities as writing in public, casual conversation, being at parties, eating in public, or using a public restroom (also see, Paruresis). Social phobia is not the same as shyness. Shy individuals may be extremely self-conscious, but they do not experience the same disabling anticipatory anxiety, avoidance behavior, and physical arousal symptoms as those with social phobia.