How To Manage Social Anxiety Disorder, Or "Social Phobia"

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Social anxiety disorder is a clinical mental health condition that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates will affect around 12% of adults in their lifetimes. It refers to a serious and potentially debilitating fear of social situations, often stemming from a desire to avoid being observed or judged by others. See below to learn about the history of this disorder’s name—including why it’s no longer called “social phobia”—along with key symptoms and treatment/management options.

Coping with social anxiety disorder can be challenging

Social anxiety disorder vs. social phobia

So what is social phobia? Social anxiety disorder used to be referred to as “social phobia” and was often grouped with specific phobias, such as thalassophobia (fear of the sea) or acrophobia (fear of heights). However, more recent versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) reclassified it as “social anxiety disorder,” mainly because it presents quite differently from specific phobias. 

When grouped together with specific phobias, social anxiety disorder often becomes confused with agoraphobia—a separate condition—or otherwise misunderstood.

That’s why although technically social anxiety disorder and social phobia refer to the same condition, “social phobia” is now considered to be outdated. “Social anxiety disorder” is a clearer, more specific term that can help promote more accurate awareness and treatment of this illness.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is a mental illness in the category of anxiety disorders. It’s characterized by overwhelming feelings of anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. The symptoms can be so intense that they may lead a person to avoid social situations altogether. They must last for at least six months and significantly interfere with daily life and functioning in order for a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder to be considered.

A person with this illness might experience the following symptoms when faced with certain, specific social situations—such as meeting new people, talking on the phone, speaking with authority figures, doing a task in front of others, eating in front of others—or any social situation at all: 

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • An increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Speaking very softly
  • Finding it difficult to make eye contact
  • Feeling their mind “going blank”
  • Experiencing stiffness or rigidity in the body

How social anxiety disorder can impact a person’s life

Social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness around new people or the common fear of public speaking. Instead, it’s a clinical condition that can produce symptoms serious enough to significantly negatively impact a person’s life. First, they can simply take up a lot of energy and cause a person distress. They can also make it difficult for an individual to attend work or school, which could lead to financial difficulties and even trouble maintaining a stable place to live in extreme cases. 

Symptoms can also lead a person to isolate themselves as a result of their desire to avoid social scenarios. Since research suggests that social connectedness can help improve stress resilience and overall health and well-being, this tendency can have serious negative effects over time as well. That’s why it’s typically recommended that you seek the support of a therapist, psychiatrist, or counselor if you’re experiencing signs of social anxiety disorder. Since this condition is considered treatable, it’s likely that you’ll be able to enjoy an improved quality of life with the right support.

Treatment options for social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is considered to be highly treatable. Some form of therapy is typically recommended, sometimes in combination with medication. Common types of therapy for social anxiety disorder include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to help you change how you think about social situations so you can, in turn, change how you feel and behave, and it may also incorporate ways for you to strengthen your social skills

  • Exposure therapy, which is a form of phobia therapy that can help you face your fears of social situations in small, incremental ways with the support of a trained professional and, usually, a set of relaxation techniques

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which focuses on strategies to help reduce the discomfort and anxiety you may feel in response to certain situations through mindfulness, relaxation techniques, etc. 

Additional tips for working toward healing

In addition to seeking professional treatment, there are other strategies you can try to help ease your symptoms. A 2021 study suggests that regular exercise could be a helpful intervention for those experiencing social anxiety disorder. Healthy habits like this in general—which can also include sleeping well and eating nutritious foods—can be helpful in reducing symptoms of a variety of mental health conditions and challenges. 

Cultivating a mindfulness practice may also help you in managing symptoms of social anxiety disorder. As one study reports, a mindfulness-based intervention that focuses on self-compassion could be especially helpful. Finally, you might also talk to your doctor or nutritionist about certain herbs, vitamins, or minerals you can incorporate into your diet that may help reduce symptoms of anxiety in general.

Coping with social anxiety disorder can be challenging

Online therapy for social anxiety disorder

The prospect of meeting with a therapist in person can be anxiety-inducing for those who experience social anxiety disorder. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a more comfortable, convenient option. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging—whichever makes you feel most comfortable. Research suggests that online treatment for social anxiety disorder can be highly effective, so it may be worth exploring if you’re experiencing symptoms of this illness.


Social anxiety is more than just nervousness when meeting new people. Instead, it’s a clinical mental health condition that can result in severe and even debilitating symptoms when the individual is faced with social situations. This disorder can typically be effectively treated with some form of therapy, sometimes in combination with medication and lifestyle changes.
It is possible to overcome phobias
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