Understand & Overcome Social Anxiety

Overcome your social anxiety disorder, social phobia and glossophobia with the help of this guide and our VR App.

  1. Social anxiety disorder overview
  2. Signs of social anxiety disorder
  3. What causes social anxiety disorder?
  4. Test for social anxiety
  5. Treating social anxiety disorder in adults
  6. Glossophobia

Social Anxiety Disorder Overview

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a persistent and overwhelming fear of social situations. It’s one of the most common anxiety disorders.

Social anxiety disorder is much more than “shyness”. It can be intense fear and anxiety over simple everyday activities, such as shopping or speaking on the phone.

Many people sometimes worry about certain social situations, but someone with social anxiety disorder will worry excessively about them before, during and afterwards. They fear doing or saying something they think will be embarrassing or humiliating, such as blushing, sweating or appearing incompetent.

Social anxiety disorder is a type of complex phobia. This type of phobia has a disruptive or disabling impact on a person’s life. It can severely affect a person’s confidence and self-esteem, interfere with relationships and impair performance at work or school.

Social anxiety disorder often starts during childhood or adolescence. It’s a recognised disorder that can be effectively treated.

Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder

Dread everyday activities, such as:

  • meeting strangers
  • talking in groups or starting conversations
  • speaking on the telephone
  • talking to authority figures
  • working
  • eating or drinking with company
  • shopping

Have low self-esteem and feel insecure about their relationships

Fear being criticised

Avoid eye-to-eye contact

Misuse drugs or alcohol to try to reduce their anxiety

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

As with many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Anxiety disorders often run in families, so you’re more likely to have social anxiety disorder if a close family member is affected. However, the exact nature of the relationship between genetics and learned behaviour is uncertain.

The behaviour of parents may also have an influence on whether their child will develop social anxiety disorder. If you have worried or anxious parents, it can often affect your ability to cope with anxiety during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

People with social anxiety disorder often describe their parents as:

  • overprotective
  • not affectionate enough
  • constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
  • overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
  • exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers

Social Anxiety Test

There are several online tests available to check for social anxiety. These tests are usually questionnaire based, with the user picking answers depending on the hypothetical situation the question puts them in. We suggest the following tests to find out if you suffer from social anxiety disorder:

  1. Test for Social Anxiety Disorder – socialanxietyinstitute.org
  2. Screening for Social Anxiety Disorder – adaa.org
  3. Social Anxiety Test – testyourself.psychtests.com

Treating Social Anxiety Disorder in Adults

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR can be a great way to experience social situations in the safety of your own home. The technology immerses you in realistic environments where you can practice speaking to crowds, answering questions to panel members, standing on podiums in front of hundreds of people and many other situations.

There are some great VR apps out there, all you need is your mobile phone and a VR headset, such as Google Cardboard, which can cost as little as $15.

The VirtualSpeech VR app can help you become more comfortable in social situations, such as meetings or speaking at conferences.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most effective treatments for social anxiety disorder.

Generally, CBT works by helping you identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioural patterns. You and your therapist work together to change your behaviour and replace unhelpful beliefs with more realistic and balanced ones.

Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches new skills and helps you understand how to react more positively to situations that would usually cause you anxiety.

Your therapy sessions may include learning about social anxiety, graduated exposure to feared social situations (which may include some homework), examining and modifying your core beliefs and helping to prevent relapse.

CBT involves a considerable time commitment. The exact amount of time required can vary, depending on your specific condition and response to therapy. One example is 15 hourly sessions, plus one of 90 minutes. However, you may require fewer or more sessions, or you may need fewer sessions that last longer.

Supported self-help

If you wish to try a different psychological therapy, you may be offered supported self-help. This could be in the form of a CBT-based book or computer programme to try over three to four months.

One of the most widely-used self-help therapies for people with anxiety or phobias is FearFighter, which is available on the NHS in some areas. You can also pay to do the course privately.


Some people may benefit from trying a type of antidepressant medication, usually a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), either instead of or in combination with individual CBT. SSRIs increase the level of serotonin in your brain. They can be taken on a long-term basis.

As with all antidepressants, SSRIs can take several weeks to start working. You’ll usually be started on a low dose, which will gradually be increased as your body gets used to the medicine.

Escitalopram or sertraline are the two SSRIs often prescribed to treat social anxiety disorder. If you’re prescribed one of these, you’ll initially be asked to see your GP every few weeks to check on your progress and see if you’re responding well to it.

For further information on this, visit the NHS website.


If all of the above interventions aren’t right for you, for whatever reason, you may be offered interpersonal psychotherapy or short-term psychotherapy specifically designed for social anxiety disorder.

Psychotherapy generally involves talking to a trained therapist either one-to-one, in a group, or with your wife, husband or partner. It allows you to look deeper into your problems and worries, and deal with troublesome habits and a wide range of mental disorders.

Interpersonal psychotherapy aims to link social anxiety to relationship problem areas and address these. You’ll probably be offered 16-20 sessions over four to five months.

Short-term psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder aims to improve your social skills, and encourage you to face feared social situations outside therapy sessions. A course of treatment usually consists of 25-30 sessions that last 50 minutes, over a six- to eight-month period.


Glossophobia is the technical term given to a severe fear of public speaking. People who suffer from glossophobia tend to freeze in front of an audience, unable to speak. Their mouth might dry up and they might start sweating, shaking or experiencing palpitations.

People who suffer from glossophobia will shy away from any opportunity to speak in public, no matter how beneficial to their career. They feel highly embarrassed speaking in front of people, worried about what the audience will say and think about them.

Symptoms of glossophobia can be grouped under three primary categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. Physical symptoms, the most obvious one, include increased blood pressure and heart beats, increased sweating tendency, stiffening of neck and upper back muscles and dry mouth.

Some organisations, such as Toastmasters International, and training courses in public speaking may help to reduce the fear to manageable levels. Self-help materials that address public speaking are among the bestselling self-help topics.


  • intense anxiety prior to, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group
  • avoidance of events which focus the group’s attention on individuals in attendance
  • physical distress, nausea, or feelings of panic in such circumstances