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Dear Dr. Robert,

I'm painfully shy. Whenever I meet someone new I will start shaking and sweating. I can't even make a phone call to a friend in fear of me saying something wrong. I'm always worried when I am in a social situation. What if I freeze up? What are people going to think of me? Am I going to make a fool of myself? Can you please tell me what are some ways to ease this and to be more comfortable around social groups?

Thank you for your time,


Dear Richard--

Although I cannot make a firm diagnosis without meeting you in person, judging from what you have written, I would say that you are suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder.

Here is a description of a classic case of SAD, given by a sufferer:

"In any social situation, I felt fear. I would be anxious before I even left the house, and it would escalate as I got closer to a college class, a party, or whatever. I would feel sick at my stomach--it almost felt like I had the flu. My heart would pound, my palms would get sweaty, and I would get this feeling of being removed from myself and from everybody else.

"When I would walk into a room full of people, I'd turn red and it would feel like everybody's eyes were on me. I was embarrassed to stand off in a corner by myself, but I couldn't think of anything to say to anybody. It was humiliating. I felt so clumsy, I couldn't wait to get out.

"I couldn't go on dates, and for a while I couldn't even go to class. My sophomore year of college I had to come home for a semester. I felt like such a failure."

Treatment for this condition involves psychological counseling and sometimes medications such as antidepressants to reduce associated anxiety and depression. Fortunately, competent psychotherapy, coupled with proper medication if needed, is usually quite effective in dealing with this condition. In my experience, social anxiety disorder often responds well to psychotherapy conducted along the lines called "cognitive-behavioral therapy," so you might want to look for a therapist who specializes in the cognitive-behavioral approach to treating anxiety. Be well.

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