Understanding Social Anxiety: Symptoms, Root Cause & Treatment

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Are you feeling overwhelmed by fear and anxiety in social situations? You’re not alone – millions of people around the world experience something called Social Anxiety Disorder. In this guide, we will explore the root cause of social anxiety and its common symptoms, and highlight different treatment options.

Ready to find relief? Let’s dive right in!

Key Takeaways

  • Social anxiety disorder is a real fear that can make you worry too much about what others think of you, leading to difficulties in keeping friends and carrying out daily tasks.
  • Shyness and social anxiety are different – while shyness is temporary and doesn’t interfere with daily life, social anxiety disorder is persistent, causes significant distress, and can impact various areas of life.
  • Social anxiety disorder affects about 7% of adults in the United States alone, leading to missed opportunities and feelings of isolation and distress.
  • Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include physical symptoms like excessive sweating; behavioral symptoms like avoidance behavior and difficulty initiating conversations; and emotional symptoms like intense fear of embarrassment.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Understand social anxiety: symptoms, Root cause of social anxiety and treatment

Social Anxiety Disorder is a psychological condition characterized by an intense fear of judgment and negative evaluation in social situations.

Definition and explanation

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Social anxiety disorder is a real fear. This fear can make you worry too much about what others think of you. It might feel like everyone is watching and judging you all the time. This feeling comes from your own mind, not from other people’s actions.

Because it makes friends harder to keep and day-to-day tasks tougher to do, social anxiety can harm your quality of life.

Difference between shyness and social anxiety

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Shyness and social anxiety may seem similar, but there are key differences between the two. Shyness is a personality trait where someone feels awkward or uncomfortable in certain social situations.

It’s often temporary and doesn’t interfere with daily life. On the other hand, social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by intense fear and avoidance of social interactions due to fear of being judged or embarrassed.

Unlike shyness, social anxiety is persistent, causes significant distress, and can impact a person’s ability to function in various areas of their life. While both shyness and social anxiety involve discomfort in social situations, it’s important to recognize that social anxiety goes beyond just feeling shy and requires professional help for effective management.

Prevalence and impact

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is quite common and can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives. It affects about 7% of adults in the United States alone.

This means that millions of people struggle with excessive fear and anxiety in social situations. The impact of social anxiety can be far-reaching, affecting various aspects of life such as work, school, and relationships.

People with social anxiety may avoid certain activities or situations where they fear being judged or embarrassed. This can lead to missed opportunities and feelings of isolation and distress.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

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Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a range of symptoms, including physical, behavioral, and emotional manifestations.

Physical symptoms

Social anxiety disorder can manifest in various physical symptoms. Here are some common signs that someone may experience:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Behavioral symptoms

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People with social anxiety disorder may exhibit certain behavioral symptoms that can be indicative of their anxiety and fear in social situations. These symptoms include:

  1. Avoidance behavior: Individuals with social anxiety often go to great lengths to avoid situations where they may be the center of attention or face potential judgment or embarrassment.
  2. Difficulty initiating conversations: The fear of saying something embarrassing or being negatively evaluated can make it challenging for individuals with social anxiety disorder to initiate and maintain conversations, especially with people they are not familiar with.
  3. Use of safety behaviors: To cope with their anxiety, individuals may adopt certain behaviors that provide them with a sense of security. These safety behaviors can include speaking softly or avoiding eye contact to go unnoticed, fidgeting, or hiding behind objects as a way to feel protected.
  4. Limited participation in group activities: People with social anxiety disorder tend to avoid participating in group activities or events due to their fear of being observed, judged, or humiliated by others.
  5. Excessive self-monitoring: Those with social anxiety constantly monitor their own behavior and appearance, hoping to avoid any actions or traits that might draw unwanted attention or negative evaluation from others.
  6. Dependence on others: Individuals with social anxiety disorder may rely heavily on someone they trust during social interactions to alleviate their fears and provide reassurance.

Emotional symptoms

Social anxiety disorder is not just about physical symptoms and behaviors. It also affects a person’s emotions. Here are some emotional symptoms that people with social anxiety may experience:

  • Intense fear of embarrassment: People with social anxiety often have an overwhelming fear of doing something embarrassing or being humiliated in front of others.
  • Fear of negative evaluation: They constantly worry about what others think of them and fear being judged negatively.
  • Excessive self-consciousness: They tend to be overly self-aware and concerned about their performance, appearance, or behavior in social situations.
  • Persistent worry and anticipation: They anticipate the worst outcome in social situations and may worry excessively before an event or gathering.
  • Feelings of insecurity and inadequacy: Socially anxious individuals often have low self-esteem and feel inadequate compared to others.
  • Emotional distress: They may experience intense feelings of anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and sadness related to their social fears.

Root Causes of Social Anxiety and Risk Factors

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Social anxiety disorder can be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors, as well as traumatic experiences. Understanding these causes and risk factors is crucial in developing effective treatment strategies for social anxiety.

Biological factors

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Biological factors play a role in social anxiety disorder. Here are some important points to know:

  • Genetics: Research suggests that there may be a genetic component involved in the development of social anxiety disorder. If you have a family member with the condition, you may be at a higher risk of developing it yourself.
  • Brain chemistry: Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), have been linked to social anxiety. These chemicals help regulate mood and anxiety levels in the brain.
  • Amygdala activity: The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, including fear and anxiety. Studies have shown that people with social anxiety disorder can have an overactive amygdala, which contributes to their heightened response to social situations.
  • Cognitive biases: Some individuals with social anxiety disorder may also have negative thinking patterns or cognitive biases that contribute to their symptoms. For example, they may interpret neutral or ambiguous social cues as threatening or believe that others are judging them harshly.

Environmental factors

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Environmental factors can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder. These factors may include:

  • Negative experiences: Traumatic experiences, such as bullying or humiliation, can increase the risk of developing social anxiety.
  • Family environment: Growing up in a family that is overly critical or judgmental can contribute to feelings of self-consciousness and fear of negative evaluation.
  • Cultural influences: Societal pressure to conform to certain norms or expectations can increase social anxiety, especially in cultures that place a strong emphasis on social status and appearance.
  • Social isolation: Lack of social support and limited opportunities for social interaction can contribute to feelings of loneliness and social anxiety.
  • Media influence: Exposure to media portrayals of perfection and constant comparison with others on social media platforms can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and fear of judgment.

Traumatic experiences

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Traumatic experiences can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder. These experiences may include incidents such as physical or emotional abuse, bullying, or other forms of trauma that cause significant distress.

People who have experienced trauma may develop a heightened fear of judgment and negative evaluation from others, leading to increased social anxiety symptoms. Additionally, traumatic events can disrupt a person’s sense of safety and security in social situations, making them more likely to avoid interactions with others.

It’s important for individuals who have experienced traumatic events to seek support and treatment for both their trauma and social anxiety symptoms.

Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder

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Psychotherapy, medication, self-help strategies, and support groups provide effective treatment options for individuals with social anxiety disorder.


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Psychotherapy is a common and effective treatment option for social anxiety disorder. It involves talking with a trained therapist to understand and manage anxiety symptoms. Through psychotherapy, individuals can learn coping strategies, challenge negative thoughts, and practice new behaviors in a safe environment.

One type of psychotherapy often used for social anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. Psychotherapy can help people overcome their fears, build self-confidence, and improve their overall quality of life.


Medication can be an effective treatment option for social anxiety disorder. It is often used alongside therapy to help manage symptoms and improve overall well-being. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines can help reduce anxiety and alleviate some of the physical and emotional distress associated with social anxiety.

SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, helping to regulate mood and relieve symptoms. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can provide short-term relief from anxiety.

However, it’s important to note that medication alone is not a cure for social anxiety disorder. It should be used in conjunction with therapy and other self-help strategies to address the root causes of social anxiety and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

When choosing medication as a treatment option, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in mental health. They will assess your specific needs, medical history, and any potential side effects before prescribing medication.

Additionally, it may take some trial and error to find the right medication or dosage that works best for you, so patience is key in this process. Remember that everyone’s experience with medication is unique, so what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

Self-help strategies

Self-help strategies can be effective in managing social anxiety disorder. Here are some ways to overcome social anxiety:

  1. Gradual exposure: Face your fears gradually by gradually exposing yourself to situations that make you anxious. Start with small steps and work your way up.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety.
  3. Positive self-talk: Challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations. Remind yourself that you are capable and deserving of positive interactions.
  4. Social skills training: Learn and practice social skills to improve your confidence in social situations. This can include assertiveness training and learning how to initiate conversations.
  5. Seeking support: Reach out to trusted friends or family members who can provide support and understanding. Joining a support group or seeking professional help can also provide guidance and encouragement.
  6. Healthy lifestyle habits: Take care of your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, and reducing stress through activities like yoga or hobbies you enjoy.

Support groups and resources

Support groups and resources can be valuable for individuals with social anxiety disorder. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can provide a sense of belonging and understanding.

Support groups offer a safe space to share feelings, gain insights, and learn coping strategies from people who have firsthand knowledge of social anxiety. In addition to support groups, there are also online communities and forums where individuals can connect virtually and seek advice or guidance.

Furthermore, there are numerous resources available such as books, websites, and educational materials that provide information on social anxiety disorder, its symptoms, treatment options, and tips for managing it in daily life.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone immediately, you can call the National Mental Health Hotline 24/7 at 1-866-903-3787. (Facetime is also available via the call button on their website)


A person feeling anxious and isolated in a bustling cityscape setting.

Understanding social anxiety and its symptoms is crucial for identifying and seeking help for this common mental health condition. By recognizing the signs of social anxiety disorder, such as excessive self-consciousness and avoidance behavior, individuals can take steps towards effective treatment options like psychotherapy, medication, and self-help strategies.

With the right support and resources, it is possible to overcome social anxiety and live a fulfilling life with confidence in social interactions.


1. What are the symptoms of social anxiety?

Symptoms of social anxiety can include excessive worry and fear about social situations, avoiding or enduring them with intense discomfort, and physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, and a rapid heart rate.

2. How is social anxiety treated?

Social anxiety can be treated through therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. Medication may also be prescribed to manage symptoms.

3. Can social anxiety go away on its own?

Without treatment, social anxiety is unlikely to go away on its own. However, with proper treatment and self-help strategies, symptoms can be managed effectively.

4. Is there anything I can do to reduce my social anxiety?

Yes! Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation can help manage symptoms of social anxiety. It’s also beneficial to challenge negative thoughts and gradually expose yourself to feared situations with support from a therapist if needed.

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