EI & Anxiety - Articles

EI & Anxiety - Categories


« Social anxiety or public speaking phobia? by Rachel Green »

Written by Rachel Green. The smart emotions coach: Helping people become resilient and find positive outcomes from uneasy emotions and difficult decisions. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She has used meditation to cure herself of panic attacks and had a family member with social anxiety.

Social anxiety or public speaking phobia?

Social anxiety is the FEAR of social situations, social interactions and meeting people. It can be felt across all aspects of a person's life and is associated with severe anxiety symptoms.

However, the boundaries of what do and do not constitute social anxiety symptoms are not clearly defined in reference to other problems.

For example, some classify public speaking phobia as a type of social anxiety. Others don't. When can a public speaking phobia be considered as part of a cluster of social anxiety symptoms and when is it just a public speaking phobia?

The problem arises, at least partly, because some social anxiety symptoms appear to be shared with other psychological problems, such as generalised anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and phobias such as agoraphobia and public speaking phobia.

I am not an expert on social anxiety but I have had a lot of experience with people with public speaking phobia. I treat many people who are terrified of public speaking and am a professional speaker.

Social anxiety or public speaking phobia - what's the difference?

I think a public speaking phobia is only a social anxiety disorder when there are other social anxiety symptoms present; for example, when the person fears social situations, social interactions and meeting people across a number of different situations, of which one may be speaking in public.

I have seen many socially competent and confident people have a fear of public speaking without any other anxiety or other symptoms. I would not consider them to have social anxiety symptoms or disorder. They, as far as I can see, have a specific phobia.

I don't think it helps anyone to lump the two together.

Does social anxiety always have a public speaking phobia?

No! I've had a client who had a strong fear of social conversations but who was more than happy to speak in front of a group of fifty or more people. She had no public speaking phobia at all, but she did have social anxiety symptoms.

Of course, people with social anxiety may have a phobia, but I don't think this makes it part of the social anxiety symptoms, but rather it becomes "social anxiety plus" (a phobia).

What defines social anxiety disorder, in my understanding of it, is the fear specifically of social situations and meeting people.

One person I know with severe social anxiety has a fear of social chit-chat and especially with strangers. This is quite different from having a phobia about heights, spiders, flying in an aeroplane or pubic speaking.

If you want to try meditation to ease your anxiety I recommend our "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. The meditations are the ones I used to help me overcome my panic attacks.

 MP3s $29 (US) Add to Cart


Social anxiety or public speaking phobia?

Yes, I suspect there is considerable variation in social anxiety symptoms, just as all anxiety disorders vary in intensity and duration from one person to the next.

If there is a fear about meeting and interacting with people in the absence of other psychological issues then I think most would agree that this is a social anxiety disorder.

However, does the term social anxiety also apply to people without a severe fear of social situations and to those who have a milder anxiety in meeting new people? Maybe not, if we are trying to define a specific psychiatric disorder but probably so, if we are looking at a continuum of human behaviour.

I work as an emotional intelligence and communication skills coach, so I tend to see people who have milder levels of anxiety around social situations and social interactions than the people seen by psychiatrists or clinical psychologists. People come to me because they need to improve their public speaking skills, for example, or they have some networking nerves.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists in contrast, see people who have far more severe psychological disturbances and mental health disorders than I ever would.

Public speaking phobia - what are the symptoms?

I see people with anxiety and nerves about public speaking who do not have social anxiety symptoms or disorder.

Often their fears have arisen, in my experience, following a single specific instance of being in front of a crowd and feeling humiliated in some way. 

They have not generalised this fear into other social situations and may hold a conversation with ease. They have, however, often generalised the anxiety felt in this one instance, usually associated with childhood, to all future public speaking situations.

These people may have a public speaking phobia. This is different from having social anxiety symptoms.

This, of course, does not mean that someone with social anxiety symptoms may not also have a public speaking phobia.

Social anxiety or public speaking phobia? Why it matters.

If we can clearly define what the symptoms of social anxiety are, and when someone has social anxiety and when they haven't, we will reduce the danger of a wrong diagnosis and increase the chance of people getting the right treatments.

By the way, some people refer to social anxiety disorder as social anxiety phobia. Is it a phobia? I am not convinced. Social anxiety symptoms seem to be more typical of a generalised anxiety disorder, to me.

There is so much more that could be said in discussing social anxiety symptoms. I welcome your comments and experiences of social anxiety and fears of public speaking. How is it for you? What features would you list as typical social anxiety symptoms?

There are many different treatments available to help people overcome and reduce social anxiety. Meditation is just one of many. If you want to try meditation to ease your social anxiety I recommend our "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. The meditations on there are the ones I used to help me overcome my panic attacks. However, nice though it may be to meditate one or two times, I am convinced it is only by regular practice that the true benefits are gained.

MP3s $29 (US) Add to Cart


NB: Rachel is not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. This article is for your information only and is only general in nature and does not constitute individual advice. Everyone is different. It is not provided as an alternative to obtaining professional advice from an appropriately qualified practitioner. Please seek the individual help you need if you have social anxiety or other significant anxiety. Thank you.